What Does the Term Organic Mean? Does Anyone Know?

Last week the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a report stating that organic food is not nutritionally superior to conventional food,and people were shocked.

Clearly, there is some real confusion about the term "organic" and what it truly means. Let's get one thing straight: organic does not necessarily mean healthy. Walk down the aisles of any of the beautiful Whole Foods locations in your area and you will find organic junk food everywhere. Organic cookies, crackers, and other snacks with a shelf life of 5 years are not healthy foods in my book!

To many people, organic has come to define what a product does not have: harmful chemicals. When buying produce or milk, the organic label assures consumers they are purchasing products without harmful pesticide residue or harmful hormones and antibiotics.

But here's where things get hairy. Last April, professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University in Newcastle, England, Carlo Leifert, published a study that found that organic milk can contain up to 60% more antioxidants and fatty acids than conventional milk. So here we do have an organic product that is potentially nutritionally superior. Is it because the animals are fed a nutritionally superior diet and treated in a way that they produce more nutrient dense products?

Well, maybe. But here's more to think about: recently I did research on grass-fed beef and the nutritional differences between organic and grass-fed beef. Turns out that a cow raised on organic corn feed is not as healthy as one given a natural, vegetarian diet, even if it is not organic. The cow that forages on pastures takes in omega 3's from the plants it eats and passes them on to humans. Its steak is higher in vitamin E, omega 3 fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA. (CLA may be an aggressive cancer fighter). It is also lower in fat and calories.

Clearly, there is still a lot to learn about the term organic and what it means. However, I think that all of the current controversy and movement toward looking at our foods, how we process them, and what we eat is a wonderful thing. I, for one, am enjoying this revision and rethinking, and I'm making an effort to eat as my grandparents did: fresh, and unprocessed.

I definitely won't be running into my backyard to pick my own organic produce any time soon. (My one foray into gardening this year has yielded soggy, yellowing plants whose nutritional quality, not to mention taste, are borderline horrible).
However, there's a great Farmer's Market down the street, and they sell organic produce and grass-fed meats. It's a good start.

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