Wise Wednesday- organic foods: don’t get confused by the labels

DISCLAIMER: I am not a registered dietitian. I am a student who is studying nutrition and preparing to become a registered dietitian, though. I still do want to share with you nutrition and healthy living topics that I find interesting and am learning about in my classes or through my own research.

Organic food and labels

Today I wanted to share what I learned in my summer class a few a weeks ago about organic foods. I was a little surprised by what I learned and I think that you guys could benefit by knowing this information! First of all, it is worth mentioning that organic has an official definition as defined by the USDA, but the following commonly used terms do not: certified organic, free-range, organically produced, natural, hormone free, pesticide free, and raised without antibiotics (Understanding Food Principles and Preparation by Amy Brown pg. 16). What this means for consumers, typically, is confusion.  I don’t know about you, but certified organic sounds pretty official.  Now why does it matter? Well, it matters because if you buy organic food you probably purchase it because you want food free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers that have not been exposed to hormones or antibiotics and have not been genetically modified. Furthermore, organic food tends to be more expensive to purchase so if you are shelling out the extra bucks, don’t you want to buy food that is actually organic? It seems to me that those unofficial terms may just be a way to sell the product for more money and they may not even contain USDA organic ingredients. This does not mean you should not buy those foods, you just need to decide for yourself how you feel about the labeling. So, what should you look for when buy food to ensure it is actually organic? Look for the USDA organic label or the terms Made with Organic Ingredients and Contains Organic Ingredients (Understanding Food Principles and Preparation by Amy Brown pg. 16). USDA organic means the food product contains 95-100% organic ingredients and the other two terms mean 70% of the ingredients meet the organic criteria or less than 70% of the ingredients meet organic criteria (Understanding Food Principles and Preparation by Amy Brown pg. 16).

I shop organic when I can, especially for produce. It does tend to be more expensive so I pick and chose what I buy organic because as a student I am on a budget. I know that apples are one of the fruits highest in pesticides so that is probably the top food I buy organic when I can. Just remember that non organic foods can be healthy, safe, and you do not necessarily have to buy organic to be healthy! I personally eat a combination of organic and non organic foods and both have a place in our diets and budgets.

I have a helpful picture below that I often refer to when grocery shopping. This picture lists the dirtiest (in terms of pesticides) and the cleanest produce. It may help you decide which produce you want to buy organic and which you want to buy non organic (courtesy of environmental working group. http://www.ewg.org/foodnews).


I hope you all found this helpful! After learning about organic foods in my class this summer, I have been checking food labels more often. It’s nice to know which foods are actually organic and which are labeled with uncertified terms. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to pay organic prices for nonorganic foods! Another thing you can do is to buy produce that is in season and local. Your local farmers market is a great place to check! The food at a farmers market is typically fresher and travels less distance than what you buy at the local grocery store. You can even ask the farmers what kind of pesticides, hormones, etc. they treat their food or produce with. I’m excited to move to my apartment this weekend which is just down the street from a local farmer’s market! I’m probably going to be a regular there Smile with tongue out.

What foods do you buy organic, if any? Do you go to a local farmers market? If so what do you buy there? Do you ask the farmers or producers about how they grow, treat, and produce their food?




5 thoughts on “Wise Wednesday- organic foods: don’t get confused by the labels

  1. This is really interesting, I’m not sure how it works in the UK but I will definitely have to check! I feel your excitement for the farmers’ market, supermarkets just aren’t the same.

  2. I try to buy the dirty dozen organic but don’t always. We definitely buy organic apples, celery, potatoes and bell peppers though, usually at Trader Joe’s. We have a local farmer’s market that we can walk to but only one of the farms selling is certified organic. I still feel good about buying local even if it’s not organic though. Interesting info!

    • Thank you! I’m right there with you, as it not always feasible (financially or due to availability) to buy the dirty dozen organic. Buying local is a great thing to do, though, regardless of if its organic or not. The food typically travels a shorter distance to your plate that way so it is fresher! A valuable piece of advice I heard recently was to get to know my local farmers and/or food producers. That way I can ask them questions about their crops and/or food products as they can have more of an impact on our health for better or worse than we may realize!

Leave a Reply