What Does “Organic” Mean?

What is organic food?

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. It is produced without using most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic systems replenish and maintain soil fertility, eliminate the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, and build biologically diverse agriculture.

Is “natural” the same as “organic”?

No. Seeing the word “natural” on a label does not guarantee the food has been produced in a renewable way and without the use of pesticides. Only labels with the words “Certified Organic” can guarantee such claims. As of October 21, 2002, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has put in place a set of national standards that food labeled “organic” must meet, whether it is grown domestically or imported from other countries. To determine whether a food meets the USDA’s standards, a US government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the necessary rules. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets distributed to stores or restaurants must be certified as well.

Are organic foods more nutritious?

Organic foods of all kinds have nutritional characteristics similar to their conventionally produced counterparts. Essentially the same amount of protein, fat, carbohydrate, and dietary fiber in a glass of organic milk is found in a glass of milk produced nonorganically. Although studies have indicated that organically grown crops have higher nutrient content more often than conventionally grown crops, it is not clear whether this could have a long-term effect on human health. Some people who prefer organic food believe that it is more nutritious.

Does organic food taste better?

The USDA makes no claims that organically produced food tastes better than conventionally produced food—only that it is grown, handled, and processed differently. Many people believe organic produce has an excellent taste; some believe it contains more nutrients. Many chefs prefer organic produce because they think it both tastes better and helps create agriculture sustainable for generations to come.

Why does organic food cost more?

Organic agriculture is not subsidized to the same extent as conventional agriculture, and organic practices, such as hand weeding, are often labor-intensive, and therefore more expensive. Because organic farms and industry are generally small, they cannot take advantage of economies of scale. Organic agriculture utilizes conservation practices that protect soil, water, and air; while they do cost more, those who employ and support these practices view the extra cost as an investment in the future.


Smart Strategies to Eat Well and Spend Less

High costs for basics, from gasoline to clothing, make eating well on today’s stretched incomes a challenge. But with attention to how you shop, and by preparing more meals from scratch at home, it’s still possible to enjoy a healthy diet and maintain a healthy bank balance. You may find you’re eating better than ever!

Know before you go

Determine your family’s weekly food budget in advance, and plan meals and snacks ahead so you avoid the impulse to add more expense than necessary when you’re in the store. For help in planning both health- and budget-mindful meals and snacks:

  • Map out a week’s worth of meals, figuring in leftovers, pantry items, and school or work lunches. Consider preparing an additional casserole or soup to freeze. Alternate between easy dishes and time-consuming recipes so kitchen prep isn’t overwhelming.
  • Use the Food Pyramid as a guide for choosing foods to eat and for planning meals, concentrating on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat or fat-free calcium-rich dairy products. Go lean on protein: eat more fish, beans, peas, and nuts and seeds. Eat only good oils and fats, like olive oil, and keep them to a minimum.
  • Practice portion control.Be aware of how much meat you’re eating: a 4-ounce daily serving of lean meat provides enough protein for most adults. Canned salmon, tuna, and chicken are all terrific protein alternatives to pair with salads or grains, plus another way to control portion sizes.
  • Discover some delicious veggie dishes. Add one or two meat-free meals each week featuring good-for-you whole grains and inexpensive dried or canned beans and lentils.
  • Stay focused on your favorites. Use coupons if they offer lower prices on items you already buy regularly.

Stake out the store for best buys

Make your supermarket your partner in managing your grocery budget. Remember that processed and convenience foods cost more than raw foods you prepare and cook yourself. Start with the basics—shopping in bulk, buying key items on sale, purchasing store brands—and try some of the following tips to develop a smart shopping strategy:

  • Shop the perimeter first to get essential meat, produce, and dairy products. Inner store aisles typically stock nonessentials such as soda, chips, cookies, baking products, cleaning items, and so forth.
  • Read unit prices for food products to compare food costs ounce for ounce between brands.
  • Select generic products for price savings, and check higher and lower shelves for lower-priced items; the most expensive products are typically stocked at eye level.
  • Find fresh fruits, such as apples and oranges, and vegetables such as onions and potatoes by the bag, not by the piece, to get the cheapest prices. Always buy produce in season when it’s most abundant and cheapest, and compare prices of fresh vs. frozen, both of which are more nutritious than canned.
  • Choose 90% lean ground beef instead of 95% lean, and simply drain the fat well after cooking.
  • Buy bone-in chicken pieces and sometimes save a dollar or more per pound.
  • Roast half a turkey breast to use atop salads or to make sandwiches instead of buying sliced deli meat. Use the bones for soup.
  • Buy lettuce, cabbage, and carrots loose; the bagged, prewashed versions cost more.
  • Look for day-old bread, which is still fresh and just as nutritious as just-delivered items, and check the store’s reduced rack for other specials.
  • Mix up your high- and low-cost options. For example, whole-wheat pasta typically costs more than regular (white) pasta, so eat well and save money by mixing the two together.
  • Look for in-store two-for-one deals on milk, and shred or grate your own block cheese to save money.

Seize the opportunity

Rather than thinking in terms of limitations and restrictions, consider your budget and your healthy eating goals as a framework within which you can redefine your old eating habits. It’s a time to explore overlooked options, try daring ingredient substitutions, and look for creative food combinations that satisfy comfort cravings and support a healthy body and bank account.

Your 12 Best Organic Bets

When considering your produce, remember that nine out of ten Americans do not eat the recommended 2 portions of fruit and 2 1/2 portions of vegetables each day. So your first step might be to simply incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet. However, with all the headlines about pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and other food-safety issues, many people are considering organic options more often.While more research is needed for confirmation, “some evidence suggests that organic produce may contain more vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial plant compounds than conventionally grown produce,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, the national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association in Chicago. In any case, in addition to the advantage of lower pesticide levels, organically grown products is also Earth-friendly: sustainable organic farming enhances the soil and conserves water—a boon to all of us in the long term.

Get to know the top 12

Since organics often cost more to produce and therefore may cost shoppers more, those not up to buying organic everything can still benefit their families’ health by concentrating on where they get the most bang for the buck.

The Environmental Working Group—a Washington DC-based watchdog organization of scientists, policy experts, lawyers, and other professionals who review studies and data to expose threats to our environment and health—has compiled a list based on extensive analysis of contaminants in produce. The EWGclaimsthat you can lower your pesticide exposure by 90% simply by choosing the organic varieties of the following fruits and vegetables—presented from most to least important.

  1. Celery
  2. Peaches
  3. Strawberries
  4. Apples
  5. Domestic blueberries
  6. Nectarines
  7. Sweet bell peppers
  8. Spinach, kale, and collard greens
  9. Cherries
  10. Potatoes
  11. Imported grapes
  12. Lettuce

You can start slowly and purchase just a few items each week. Make one out of every ten foods you buy organic. Pick one thing—apples, peaches, or potatoes, for instance. Environmentalists and health professionals agree: If we can get a lot of people to do a little, it will make a big difference!

15 low-risk favorites

The produce in this list does not appear to absorb pesticides as easily and is safe to consume in non-organic form, including:

  1. Onions
  2. Avocados
  3. Sweet corn
  4. Pineapples
  5. Mango
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Asparagus
  8. Kiwi fruit
  9. Cabbage
  10. Eggplant
  11. Cantaloupe
  12. Watermelon
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Sweet potatoes
  15. Sweet onions

Remember, the important thing is to get what fruits and veggies you can into your home. If they’re within reach—such as in your fridge or in a fruit bowl on the dining room table—you’re more likely to eat more. And eating more fruits and vegetables may well be more important to your health bottom line than avoiding pesticides. Counsels Blatner, “Consume the minimum recommended amount every day—no matter how it’s grown!”

How Healthy is Oily Fish?

Oily fish has been linked to a number of health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, improved mental ability, and protection from cancer, alcohol-related dementia, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Fish oil contains the two fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are believed to benefit the cardiovascular system.

The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests consuming at least two servings of fish, and especially oily fish, each week. A serving is 3.5 ounces of cooked fish or about three-quarters of a cup of flaked fish.

Health benefits of oily fish

Oily fish offers a range of health benefits.

Oily fish is rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation and potentially lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.

Both white and oily fish are good sources of lean protein. Whitefish contains fatty acids, but only in the liver, and in smaller quantities.

Omega-3 oils have been linked to higher levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and lower levels of triglycerides in the blood.

Cholesterol is mainly produced by the liver. It is involved in strengthening cell walls and in hormone production. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) carry the cholesterol to the cells, while HDL takes the excess cholesterol back to the liver for recycling or removal.

Cardiovascular disease

Consuming oily fish can help to protect against cardiovascular disease, according to the AHA. A study published by the American Physiological Society suggests that fatty fish oils can protect the heart during times of mental stress.

Rheumatoid arthritis

A study published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases linked an average daily intake of at least 0.21 grams a day of omega-3 with a 52 percent lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Other research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids might protect against the future development of RA.


Among people who abuse alcohol, fish oil may offer protection from dementia. Brain cells that were exposed to a mix of fish oil and alcohol had 95 percent less neuroinflammation and neuronal death compared with brain cells that were only exposed to alcohol.

Mouth and skin cancers

Oily fish consumption may protect from early- and late-stage oral and skin cancers. Omega-3 fatty acid has been found to target and selectively inhibit the growth of malignant and pre-malignant cells at doses that do not affect the normal cells.

Sensory, cognitive and motor development

Consuming oily fish during the last months of pregnancy can have positive effects on a child’s sensory, cognitive, and motor development, research suggests. The same study did not find that breastfeeding offered the same benefits.

Eating salmon during pregnancy can benefit offspring.


The children of women who regularly consumed salmon during pregnancy may be less likely to show signs of asthma at the age of two and a half years.

Protecting vision and memory

DHA can protect against vision loss. Scientists have identified a link between oily fish consumption and a lower risk of vision loss in older people. A study published in PLOS One indicates that eating oily fish may improve working memory.

Breast and prostate cancer

One meta-analysis of nearly 900,000 women has linked a higher consumption of oily fish with a lower risk of breast cancer. However, another team found that men with high quantities of omega-3 oil in their blood had a higher risk of prostate cancer.

Which fish, and how much?

Oily fish contain significant amounts of oil throughout their body tissues and in their belly cavity. Examples of oily fish include trout, salmon, sardines, pilchards, kippers, eels, whitebait, mackerel, herring, and tuna.

All these fish, except for tuna, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, whether canned, fresh or frozen. Tuna is rich in omega-3 when it is fresh, but not when canned.

How much oily fish is healthy?

Although eating oily fish promotes many aspects of good health, overconsumption may not be beneficial.

A recent study found a risk of premature death in people with both high and low levels of HDL, raising the question: Is more HDL always better?

High levels of HDL can be harmful to people who are undergoing dialysis because it can increase levels of inflammation.

What about the pollutants?

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) note that nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury.

This is because oily fish contain pollutants called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins. These pollutants do not have an immediate effect on health, but long term exposure can be harmful.

Dioxins are highly toxic compounds. Humans are exposed to them through animal products, including fish. High exposure can cause skin lesions and impairment of the immune and reproductive systems.

Despite these concerns, oily fish is recommended while pregnant or breastfeeding, because it will benefit the fetus or the infant, as long as the maximum limits are adhered to.

The FDA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggest a maximum of 12 ounces a week for young children and pregnant women, or two average meals.

Suitable options are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish, which are low in mercury. The FDA and EPA recommend avoiding shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.

If fish is caught locally and there is no information about pollutants, the maximum intake should be 6 ounces a week.

A number of hygiene rules must be followed.

All fish should be stored in a fridge or freezer. Hands should be thoroughly washed before and after handling fish. Fish should be thawed in a fridge overnight. Raw fish should not come into contact with cooked fish or other foods.

In view of the rapidly declining fish stocks worldwide, people are encouraged to look for sustainable sources of fish.

Other sources of omega-3 include walnuts, pumpkin seeds, vegetable oils, and soy products, and green leafy vegetables.Omega-3-enriched dairy products, eggs, bread, and spreads are also available.