Understanding “Organic” (Getting Healthy Series)

“Organic” is a hot buzzword in the wellness industry. But what does it really mean and why should it be important to you? If you’re already a big health & wellness buff, then this article is probably not for you. If you’re like the majority of America and you’re just starting to learn about all this, I hope this article can help you out. So, let’s get to it.

Organic Defined

Here’s how Merriam-Webster defines the term organic:
of food : grown or made without the use of artificial chemicals; not using artificial chemicals; of, relating to, or obtained from living things”


The key point here is “without the use of artificial chemicals.” The fact that organic foods have to be labeled tells us that everything conventionally grown uses chemicals. But it’s just on the outside, washing it will clean it right? The answer to that is: it depends. If you saw my last post about the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen, you know that different types of produce all have different pesticide levels.


So, why do we even have this term for food in the first place?


Back in the day, all foods: meat, produce & fruit were all produced naturally. Or in other words “organically”. Healthy crops and livestock are the bread & butter for famers and ranchers. If their crops or livestock were wiped out due to blight or disease, then so was the farmer’s livelihood. In order to protect that livelihood, farmers would adopt the latest technology and newest farming techniques to improve their production and the bottom line. Meaning pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and genetic modifying became the “norm”. These new-farming techniques produced bigger crops, bigger livestock and better looking produce. It’s a win-win, right? Wrong.


What they didn’t realize was that those chemicals, the pesticides, the hormones and the genetic modifying would affect humans in unpredictable ways. Over time, those chemicals build up in our bodies until on day our immune system is overloaded and we develop chronic diseases like cancer,  arthritis, fibromyalgia, allergies, so on and so forth. The foods we’re eating today are completely different than what our ancestors ate. On a genetic level, we’re not equipped to handle the chemicals and the genetic modifying. Only in recent years research is uncovering how much damage we’re truly doing to ourselves with these changes in the way we produce food.


If you’re just starting out on this journey, or you’re on a budget. Don’t fret. Overall, it’s much more important to fill up with veggies, greens, fruit and legumes than it is to buy everything organic. The phytonutrients in all the foods that are “good for us” are so powerfully protective that if you eat enough you’ll still be healthy. The problem (that we might tackle another day) is that in our Modern American Diet or Standard American Diet (MAD or SAD, for short) we’re not getting enough of the good stuff (nutrients) to prevent any of the bad stuff (disease).


Organic Labels

Picture this: you’re in your local health food store or in the natural foods section of your local grocery store and you’re browsing for organic foods. Does all the labeling and the packaging give you a headache? How you do know that what you’re getting is really what you want? Let’s take a look at the organic labeling system.




I’m sure you’ve noticed that label up above, right? That’s the USDA Organic seal. Products with the USDA Organic seal must be 95%-100% organic. If less than 100%, the rest of the ingredients are not available organically but have been approved by the National Organic Program (NOP).


Products that are 70%-94% organic are allowed to read “Made With Organic Ingredients” on the package. They are not allowed to use the USDA Organic seal.


Products that are less than 70% organic can only list the organic ingredients in the information panel and they cannot use the USDA Organic seal.


So, if you want to be sure that what you’re buying is 100% organic, it has to say somewhere on the package 100% organic. It it doesn’t, it’s safe to assume that it’s not 100% organic. Look for something like the seal below:




Organic Certification
I haven’t done a lot of research into organic certification, all I know is that it’s expensive. In order to be certified the farms and processors have to fulfill the following requirements:
  • Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
  • Support animal health and welfare
  • Provide access to the outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviors
  • Only use approved materials
  • Do not use genetically modified ingredients
  • Receive annual onsite inspections
  • Separate organic food from non-organic food
Why are Organic Foods Expensive?
Organic foods take greater care to produce than conventionally grown foods. According to the USDA, organic methods “integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.” They’re also more expensive because getting certified is not cheap. If you’re shopping at a farmer’s market don’t be afraid to ask how they grow their crops. A lot of small scale farms that sell their products at farmer’s markets often grow their food organically but they can’t afford the certification. Keep supporting them and maybe one they they will be able to afford it!

So, I hope this article has helped you to better understand organic foods and labeling. Now, go to your local grocery store and get shopping!


  1. USDA: Substances for Organic Crop & Livestock Production
  2. USDA: Organic Agriculture
  3. USDA: Organic Livestock Practices
  4. USDA: Organic Production & Handling Standards
  5. USDA: Labeling Organic Products
  6. Organic.org Certified Organic Label Guide

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