We hear a lot about organic this and organic that…but I think the most confusing thing is that a lot of people believe just because something is organic, it must be healthy…
It’s true that to be assured you are getting something that is at least 95 percent organic or better, you should look for the USDA symbol on the package or food you are buying. It is a green and white label. But is that the only thing you need to worry about when choosing food?
That can be a really tricky question, and one that needs a bit of discussion since organic, by its very mention, sounds like it’s all good and healthy.
Processed foods with “organic” on the label
Good examples of processed foods are cereals, crackers, cookies, or other similar products. Does the organic label make these foods healthier? Why or why not?
These and other foods like potato chips, tortilla chips, rice cakes, granola and food bars, pretzels, and other snacks are processed foods whether they are conventional or organic. They are almost, if not equally as processed, as their conventional counterparts.
There’s no room for fudging on this one. If you don’t believe me, just read the ingredients. What you’ll find in these products are a lot of unhealthy, rancid vegetable oils like canola oil, sunflower, safflower, soybean and cottonseed oil. These oils, besides being rancid because of the high heat they are subjected to during processed are also too high in Omega 6s – a major cause of inflammation in the body and one of the major sources of disease and illness we have in the modern world.
You’ll also find a lot of other junk like hydrolyzed vegetable and soy protein (sometimes called soy protein isolate), whey protein (which is healthy if eaten from real whey, not the processed kind), rennet (which, if not animal-sourced – and there’s probably no way to tell if it is – can be derived from ingredients like soy), non-fat milk, skim milk, powdered milks or cheese, and even undesirable sweeteners like dextrose, fructose, sucrose, corn syrup, agave nectar, or high fructose corn syrup (whoever heard of organic corn syrup? Horrifyingly enough, yes, it exists!).
Many ingredients contain soy, corn, wheat, or other highly allergenic and processed substances that are not easy to discern by reading. All products containing any type of grain, “granola”, muesli, or other similar substance – unless noted, are most likely extruded. These are not real foods. If you come across something like this, avoid it like the plague!
Unless the food has been made that day with freshly ground and soaked flour, for example, most of these kinds of foods go through something called an extrusion process whereby grains are forced through a little hole at high temperature and pressure. The process effectively strips nutrients out of the grains before they are put in the package. Then, the manufacturer adds synthetic nutrients back in to be able to claim the food has anything worthwhile in it. We all know synthetic vitamins and minerals aren’t something your body knows how to use.
Consuming extruded foods not only fails to provide the nutrition claimed on the label, it also contributes to nutritional deficiencies where minerals are leached from the body. Read more about why processed grains actually leach vitamins and minerals from your body in What Are Sprouted and Soaked Grains?
Is it healthier because it’s organic? Unfortunately, that probably isn’t the case. Organic milk, by organic standards, may not contain growth hormones, antibiotics, nor genetically-modified ingredients. However, at the very minimum, all milk sold in commercial environments is pasteurized, which destroys the valuable lactase enzyme, among others, and renders the milk indigestible to humans. Lactase is one of the main enzymes necessary for digestion of proteins and fats in milk. Many organic milks are ultra-high temperature pasteurized (usually labeled as UHT), which destroys even more of the essential bacteria critical to the digestion and absorption process.
Lactose-intolerance? If you or someone you know is “lactose-intolerant”, it is probably from consuming pasteurized milk. My son and husband were both diagnosed with a dairy “allergy” some years ago. My husband had congestion every day of his life for over 15 years. When he stopped consuming pasteurized dairy, his allergies went away. When we started consuming raw milk and other dairy, we have never had any issues whatsoever. For more information on the health benefits of drinking raw milk and consuming raw milk products, read The Truth About Raw Milk, Part I and Part II.
People can still have lactose intolerance or problems that result from consuming pasteurized dairy. They may not realize the connection between a symptom they believe is just “normal” or simply may not associate a health problem at all with the intake of pasteurized products.
How pasteurization destroys nutrients High heat temperatures applied to milk actually completely destroy or denature important vitamins like A and can remove around 38 percent of B vitamin content. Heat also weakens or destroys Vitamin C. The enzyme phosphatase, necessary for absorbing calcium, is also destroyed. It changes or destroys many amino acids, reducing the digestibility of milk protein by about 17 percent. These modifications of the milk protein are responsible for causing an immune response. This response by the immune system causes allergies and digestive difficulties. It also contributes to many other health issues from eczema to osteoporosis to heart disease.
Milk naturally contains beneficial bacteria or probiotics necessary for digestion and health. When milk is heated, these beneficial bacteria also become denatured. This bacteria aids in keeping milk from going sour too soon. That’s why when raw milk finally does go sour, it is still a living food that can be used for all sorts of purposes – cooking, buttermilk, yogurt, clabbered milk, cheese, and the list goes on. If you drink pasteurized milk past the date on the label, it will be completely rancid.
And now, milks are not the only foods that are pasteurized – nuts, juices, pickles, and some canned foods as well. Pasteurization is an affect of our modern society’s need to control “bad” bacteria by heating up and “sanitizing” everything and anything possible. The bottom line is, this process removes all bacteria and leaves you with nothing except dead bacteria and no nutrition.
Homogenization In this process, fat particles are broken down into even smaller pieces to allow them to be suspended. That’s why you don’t see the fat in homogenized milk – it’s been broken down by this process. Then, when the pasteurization occurs and the milk is heated, the fat becomes oxidized. Oxidized fat is rancid fat. Consuming rancid fats contributes to health problems like weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
What the cattle are fed Even organic milk often comes from cows on feedlots who are still eating grain, soy, and/or corn. The practice of feeding these substances fattens the animals up quickly, but they are not natural feed for cattle, who are ruminants and should be on pasture most of the time. Cattle that regularly consume something besides grass and pasture plants develop health problems which start in the gut. Corn, soy, and grain contribute to a variety of issues that make the digestive tract acidic and adversely affects the overall health of the cow and its milk.
For more information on real milk and the benefits of consuming it, visit the Real Milk site.
Meats and dairy products
In the past, organic did not specifically mean meat and dairy products were 100 percent grass-fed, pasture-raised, or humanely-raised. Organic meats and dairy products could still have originated from feedlots, as long as the animals or birds had outdoor “access”, which was vague.
For years, the organic label has meant only that animals raised for food could not be fed genetically-modified organisms, or administered hormones or antibiotics. Fortunately, things are starting to change. According to the Organic Consumers Association, organic milk will now be required to originate from cows on pasture eating grass, engaging in natural behavior and getting access to sunshine.
“We’ve been trying to get the pasture rule clarified and educate consumers about the organic frauds going on,” said Honor Schauland, campaign assistant at the Organic Consumers Association. “This is a big victory for us.”
This occurrence comes after a five-year consultation process and over 25,000 comments submitted by farmers, retailers and trade associations. New regulation laws now require access for dairy cows to grass for a minimum of 120 days during grazing season. Previously, the language stated it had to be merely “access to pasture”.
“There’s no longer this gray area of ‘what is the requirement’,” Schauland said. “The next step is enforcement.” While this change is definitely a move in the right direction, this is still not the most ideal situation available for animals being bred for meat and to produce milk. Why not allow the animals access to pasture most of the time, weather permitting, to allow for healthier conditions and consequently, healthier meat and milk?
However, because labeling is still vague and conditions where animals are raised are largely unknown when you buy meat and milk from somewhere you don’t know much about, the best solution is to know your farmer and buy meat and milk locally.
Canned, packaged, bottled, and frozen foods
These foods are what I would call a gray area because depending on what you are buying, they are processed to a certain extent. If you are talking about canned “meals” like soups, broths, boxed macaroni and cheese, salad dressings, syrups, mayonnaise, frozen dinners or breakfasts, side dishes, burritos, breakfast sandwiches, pizzas, and any other prepared food, these should always be suspect.
Vegetables, fruits, jams, sauces, legumes and other foods in cans or packages are also somewhat of a gray area. Many of these products, although organic, may have had something added to them that is not natural. To make certain they are just the whole food and nothing else, you have to check the label.
Many canned, jarred, and other types of packaging contain the chemical Bisphenol A – a hormone-like chemical that acts as a xeno or false estrogen – and therefore are subject to the contents being leached with this dangerous chemical. Adding additional estrogen to your body from an artificial source contributes to disease and illness – especially the development of cancer:
According to Greenhouse from USA Today, “Research has linked the chemical to cancer, heart disease, Type-II diabetes, obesity, sexual dysfunction and early-onset puberty. FDA officials said they are especially concerned about its developmental impact on fetuses, infants and young children.”
“BPA, used to harden plastics, leaches from containers into food and drinks, even cold ones. It’s so ubiquitous that more than 90% of Americans have traces of it in their urine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Liz Szabo, a reporter from USA Today said that FDA said it has “some concerns” about health effects and “encouraged people to limit their exposure”.
Food in jars can also be sealed with BPA in the lid, so those are not always safe solutions. The only company I know of that doesn’t use BPA in their cans is Eden Organic.
Frozen foods can be an okay way to go as long as the food is just food, and no additives or preservatives. Check labels! Organic frozen food won’t contain pesticides or other chemicals, but can be more expensive and sometimes may have questionable packaging (again, think BPA). So look for sales, and also check the Dirty Dozen list to find out which produce should be bought organic and which are less critical.
What about truly organic foods with no preservatives, chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, or anything harmful?
I’ve looked at a lot of different brands of organic packaged foods like Amy’s, Cedarlane, Nature’s Path, Newman’s Own, Earth’s Best, Cascadian Farm, Walnut Acres, Eden Organic, Ezekiel grain products, and many others. These foods may be somewhat healthier than their conventional counterparts in varying degrees. In order to know the net load of your purchase, you must know the real expense of buying any processed food – which comes down to the following:
- the upfront cost you pay at the store
- the quality of the food you are getting versus what it does for your health
- the after cost of the product – how it affects your health and how much it costs to dispose of the packaging
Cost of how it impacts your health down the road and cost of disposal of packaging is critical. To me, those are the real determinants of the effect the product you are buying has on your pocketbook, your well-being, and the planet. Remember that even foods that are completely healthy on the label may have some ingredients you really don’t know anything about as well as the packaging may be toxic in more ways than one.
Impact on the environment
It may seem as though organic foods have less impact on the environment than conventional, and in general that is true. However, when you support the processed food industry, you are really just helping to contribute to more pollution and toxicity. Processed organic foods have to be packaged and sold in boxes, cans, plastic, and other containers – some of which just end up in landfills and pollute our soil, water, and air.
Those same packages also require transportation dollars and create emissions and pollution to be shipped all over the world. So that means the use of more petroleum and other forms of energy expended to bring those products to their destination.
Recycling helps these issues, but in my opinion reducing your overall use of containers that cannot be recycled, those which have a long disintegration cycle, and those that don’t get recycled has a better overall impact. Avoiding processed foods as much as possible, whether organic or conventional, will reduce the overall toxic load of our planet.
Visit the EPA Waste site for What you Can Do to learn more ideas about reducing the amount of waste you and your family produce.
What’s really in your organic food?
Even if your food is truly sustainable and organic, you are not getting benefit from your food without the all-important presence of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Dr. Weston A. Price who traveled the world in the 1930s to various locations discovered that all healthy populations had something specific in common – they consumed these nutrients in greater amounts than those living in developed countries such as the U.S. – in some cases, TEN times the amount.
This meant that the foods those people consumed were high in real fats – raw dairy foods like butter, milk, and cream from pasture-raised cattle, fish roe (eggs), animal fats such as lard, tallow (beef fat), chicken, and others, organ meats, cod liver oil, egg yolks from hens raised in the open and eating a natural diet, seafood, and grass and pasture raised meats and poultry.
These foods have not only sustained but allowed civilizations to thrive and have robust health. These foods support conception, pregnancy, and nursing mothers, and also their unborn fetuses and children.
Today, the emphasis on health that comes from nearly all angles is on processed, low-fat foods. When you lose the fat, you lose nutrients. As a result, your health will eventually decline and you will experience chronic disease.
So even though something says organic, it won’t support your health unless you include with regularity these critical components of overall health – nutrients that support digestion, immunity, reproductive, excretory and detoxification, circulatory, pulmonary, endocrine (hormonal), brain and nervous system health; these essential fat soluble vitamins that Dr. Price discovered in all healthy populations worldwide.
Because many foods labeled organic do not meet the kind of standards you would expect, the best policy is to avoid processed foods as much as possible and buy food in the most whole form available. This means making efforts to buy your food direct from the source whenever you are able.
Other healthy choices include foods that are produced sustainably without chemicals, hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics. You can find good choices in this category by knowing where your food comes from and how the farmer or food producer uses farming practices. If you are buying something that is not local and you’ve checked the ingredients, the best thing to do is some research by contacting the company or food producer where the food is made if you want to be assured the food is safe and nutritious to eat. You can also find out about packaging and materials used to package your food.
To review, here’s how to make sure what you are eating is safe and healthy:
- Learn about where your food comes from – for more information, read How Well Do You Know Your Food? Find Out!
- Support local agriculture and farming efforts by looking on the Internet, Craigslist, and checking out your local farmer’s market
- Avoid packaged and processed foods to save money and health – read Reading Labels in The Store – Don’t Be Fooled By Marketing Lingo!
- If you aren’t doing so already, learn to cook and make foods at home from scratch so you know what you are putting in
- Make a food budget – use creativity and prioritize to save money on healthy food; create schedules and plan your cooking and food preparations
- Embrace and perfect your home-keeping skills
- Use networking and resource opportunities with others – in real life and on the Internet – to make this process easier. Start a blog or get on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. You can find like-minded people on these sites to help find the things you are looking for.
- Learn to can and jar fresh foods for later use in winter months. Check out Marisa’s site – an excellent resource for this process!
- Plant a garden or plants in pots to enable yourself to save money on food, or get involved in a local garden effort in your area
- Start a compost bin to enable your garden to produce healthier food
Do you have ideas to share? What ways do you save money, your health, and the environment?
17 replies on “Organic Is Only Part Of The Story…”
There is so much good information here. Thanks!
Recently I went on the search for a local ham for Easter. I found a farm about 30 minutes away that had a farm store. I checked out the website thoroughly and everything looked good. We made the trek, and it was so exciting to see all the pork products they sold. I know a lot of real foodies avoid pork, but we LOVE it! 🙂 I just try really hard to make sure what we buy is high quality. You could see the pigs at the farm near the parking lot. They weren’t pastured, but it wasn’t a CAFO situation, and they were outside enjoying the sunshine. We picked up a ham, bacon, ground breakfast sausage and links, lard and brats.
When I got the ham out of the freezer to thaw, I glanced at the label (why didn’t I think to do this at the farm store???), and got a sinking feeling in my stomach. All of the products were traditionally processed with lovely things like MSG, nitrates, nitrites, BHA, and BHT. UUGGHH!! Why didn’t I ask questions before we went there, and WHY didn’t I look at the labels before we purchased?
We did eat the ham for Easter, and we will slowly eat the other products (except the lard) spaced out so as not to eat too much crap all at once. I am viewing it as a compromise to conventional pork: we supported a local farm, and the pigs looked happy. Thankfully, I did recently find a farm about 2 hours away that sells pastured, organic pork. They also own the processing plant, so all the products are naturally processed without all the usual poisons. We will be purchasing either a 1/2 or whole pig there later in the year.
Sorry for the long story. 🙂 I agree that it is best to know the farmer who grows your food, but always remember to ask questions and read labels before purchasing too!
Jen – I appreciate your story and it beautifully illustrates how many times we overlook important factors when we buy food, like reading labels! I’ve done it many times, and I have also bought products that later I went back and looked at and was disappointed that I didn’t pay better attention. However, I agree that it is good to support local farms and sometimes those farms realize they need to improve their practices (especially when customers make comments) and follow suit. So it’s good to support our local farms and know where our food comes from.
I have heard from a couple of sources that if nitrates are used in meats and the meat is aged something like over 3 months, most of the nitrates have come out of the meat. I don’t know if that is really true or not, but it may be a saving grace for the pork you bought.
Like you, I also like pork when I know it comes from a good source. And I LOVE bacon!!! I have heard all the terrible stories about parasites and pigs not being able to sweat and many of the toxins stay in their bodies – and in particular, in their fat. But I do think if you are buying healthy pork on pasture, it is probably fine. If people believe that other meats are completely clean and sanitary, I think that’s sort of naive. Bottom line is, when animals are raised humanely and without chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, their meat and meat products will be healthy.
You are right, the best thing to do is really just know your farmer and ask a lot of questions! 🙂
You covered everything very well. One issue I might add is that of corporate conglomeration. I go out of my way to support small, truly family-owned, preferably local companies. Most common “organic” labels (including all of those you named in your post) are owned by companies such as ConAgra, Coca Cola, and Nestle (here’s a graphic illustration: http://www.cornucopia.org/who-owns-organic/). Given that mixed marriage I find it difficult, if not impossible, to trust the gilded claims of these companies.
For some reason, the link I posted doesn’t take you directly to the page, but you can see it on Cornucopia’s sidebar. It’s called “Who Owns Organic?”
Chandelle – yes, you are absolutely right. All of those big name organic brands are owned by some big conglomeration, and that’s why I don’t buy those unless I am in a pinch or something like that. That’s why I came back to “support local farms” at the end, but that is certainly an important point that I should have mentioned more clearly in all the information.
I love the Cornucopia Institute and Mark Kastel. He’s a great advocate for the real food movement and I appreciate his efforts tremendously! Thanks Chandelle! 🙂
Wow, lots of good stuff here. Totally agree regarding organic processed foods. The longer the ingredient list, the less likely it is to be good for you.
I just tweeted this because I think there’s a lot in here, BTW. Thanks for writing!
well we do have some lactose intolerance in our family and we just cut out on dairy products. ,,.
Genesis – have you tried raw milk? Read my two posts about raw milk, parts one and two. Raw milk from healthy sources from cows on pasture can often be consumed by people with “lactose intolerance”. Here are the links:
All in all Jen, you learned from this…next time you won’t just buy it…SMILE..been there, done that..my husband is worse about it..he buys it now if it has that green & white label, & assumes it ok…he’s learning..
Buyer beware..just because they are in a “community” does not make them healthy…our Mennonite farmers spray out the wazoo for the almighty dollar..
ask how they keep the bugs away?…why does this apple look so perfect?..
did you know that a safe, healthy apple with all the warts and brown spots is not rotten!…our granny smith’s will never be shiny green and perfect..but oh they sure taste like it! skin and all…no mealy, its very deceiving to see those brown spots..but honest they are great and not bruised..
I have a friend who cannot drink even the raw milk..so sad..but, here is a possible solution to try~
Lactose, the milk sugar found in dairy products, is a common cause of gas. Up to 50 million Americans-including Asian, African or Native American descent-are lactose intolerant, which means they cannot properly digest lactose.
Lactase enzymes and protein-digesting enzymes are sold in health-food stores, rarely cause side effects and generally are safe. People with active ulcers should not take protein-digesting enzymes.
I COMPLETELY agree….this is a big reason I had wanted to avoid boxed products as well, but Raine makes an even better point with this article about avoiding organic “processed” food. It IS “better” than conventional boxed foods, but it definitely is NOT better than WHOLE/REAL foods. It was a step up for us, now we are moving closer and closer to more whole foods, but in the south it’s hard to find, it’s getting there but not like it is up north.
You are right it is SO easy to get lured in by the gimicks. Hubby bought some “free roaming” eggs at the natural foods store a while back…let’s just say that I have seen regular ‘ol cheap factory eggs that looked/tasted better than those eggs! I explained to him the difference so he’ll know. I need to tell the store to quit buying those though.
There are so many misleading and false labels we still have to be super vigilant.
Here’s a good place to get a good explanation on misleading labels/info.
Hi Emilee! Yes, the more we uncover all the lies and deceptions that are spread on labels and inform others, the better.
Thanks for the link! Great information! 🙂
i was born with lactose intolerance and i can’t eat cheese without having an upset stomach ‘”*
Teeth Whitening – have you ever tried raw dairy? Many people who can’t eat pasteurized, commercial dairy have no trouble eating raw cheese and drinking raw milk. Give it a try! Raw dairy from healthy cows is incredibly healthy and delicious!
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[…] as your budget allows, but be aware that due to loosening of FDA regulations and requirements, organic products are now commonly made with ingredients you might not want or are trying to avoid, so read labels […]