Organic Foods: What’s the Craze?

By Patty Davidson

There is a lot of buzz about organic these days. You can’t go to the grocery store without seeing this word splashed across boxes or over sections of produce. Some stores even have set aside entire aisles or refrigerated cases with organic food offerings. But why does anyone pay the extra dollars for food that has the USDA Organic label? Here are five benefits of eating organic:

1. No chemical pesticides

One of the primary benefits of eating organic is that you avoid the many chemical pesticides found in food. These chemicals can wreak havoc on your system. They work as endocrine-blockers and inflammatory agents, keeping your body’s systems from completing their work as they are made to do. Hormone disruption and inflammation lead to poor sleep and myriad diseases and disorders.

Chemical pesticides can permeate everything we eat. Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzes the latest test data from the federal Department of Agriculture (USDA) on produce sold in the US and then conducts independent tests on these foods and ranks them based on the number and volume of chemical pesticides found. Topping their list of the worst offenders are strawberries, immediately followed by spinach. (115 different pesticides were found in bell & hot peppers – #10 on the list!)

But non-organic produce isn’t the only food ripe with chemical pesticides. Grains, such as wheat may be treated with chemical pesticides that end up in our pastas, breads, and pastries. And when cows and other animals are fed grains and feed that were previously treated with chemical pesticides, the meat and dairy we consume from those animals has chemical pesticides in it as well.

The chemicals found inside produce and other foods cannot be washed, peeled, or cooked away. (In fact, the USDA scrubs and peels produce before testing it.) The only way to prevent consuming these chemical pesticides is by eating organic.

2. No GMOs

GMO stands for  genetically modified organisms. Sometimes also called bioengineered or genetically engineered, the term GMO is used to describe when a food’s DNA has been altered to create a new version of the food with more desirable qualities, such as pesticide resistance or longer shelf-life.

Commonly genetically modified produce in the US includes papaya, sweet corn, and summer squashes like zucchini. Genetically modified apples and potatoes are likely to be introduced in the near future.

Most of the grains produced in the US come from GMOs. The only way to be sure you are avoiding consuming food from GMOs is to either eat organic or eat foods with a  Non-GMO Project Verified label. All organic food is non-GMO, but not all non-GMO food is organic.

3. No artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives

You won’t see any Red #40 or Blue Lake or Yellow #5 in the ingredients lists of any organic foods. That is because to qualify as  USDA Organic, any flavoring or coloring added to the item must not come from a synthetic or artificial source.

An article from Healthline  discusses the research into how Red Dye 40 (one of its many names) has been linked to aggression and mental disorders in children. Studies show that many children tend to have a negative behavioral response to consuming other artificial coloring as well. If you have small children or babysit them, you might want to consider keeping organic snacks on hand instead of the traditional ones. Tasty organic versions of freezer pops, ice cream, crispy treats, granola bars, and cookies are all available at grocery stores.

Organic food must be preserved naturally as well. Check the “Sell By” dates on organic dairy and pre-packaged organic meats the next time you are at the grocery store. You will be surprised how long organic choices will keep in your refrigerator or freezer at home, even without the artificial preservatives. Just be aware that once the seal on its packaging is opened, the food usually will need to be consumed within a week.

4. Supports farmers

According to the food brand  Kashi, less than one percent of farmland in the US is certified organic. To achieve USDA Organic Certification, farmers undergo a lot of time and expense, including a required three-year transition period.

When you buy organic, you are helping to reward and thank the farmers who have made this commitment by giving them a return on their investment. You are also helping these farmers to serve as an example for non-organic farmers considering making the change.

5. Increasingly accessible and affordable

More and more grocery stores are carrying organic options, and as it becomes more mainstream, the prices continue to fall. Larger and discount grocery vendors are now carrying organic items at a fraction of the price of some other grocery retailers.

Still, your budget may prevent you from going “all in” on organic right away. The budget-conscious may prefer to:

  • Prioritize  – Focus first on finding the organic versions of what the EWG deems to be the worst offenders in terms of chemical pesticides. There is really no urgent need to spend the extra money on organic avocados or pineapple, as examples, when nearly zero chemical pesticides are found in them anyway.
  • Buy Local – Buy your non-organic produce at local Farmers Markets. While local farmers will indeed use chemical pesticides, they often are using far less than what is utilized by larger operations. (Keep in mind, however, that most are using GMO seeds for their produce.)
  • Look for Quality over Quantity – In her book on nutrition, 131 Method, wellness guru Chalene Johnson notes that “we eat far more animal protein than our ancestors ever did.” She suggests cutting back on a few servings of meat each week, applying the money saved to higher quality meat purchases. To find high-quality meat, poultry, and eggs, Johnson recommends looking for those labeled “certified organic,” “pasture-raised,” and “certified humanely treated.” (Johnson cautions that “all-natural” and “grass-fed” are unregulated terms, and we, therefore, cannot rely entirely on these labels when seeking out higher-quality foods.)

According to the local nonprofit  412 Food Rescue, we waste up to 40% of the food we have. By purchasing higher-quality foods in smaller quantities, we will have plenty to fill our bellies with healthier ingredients while limiting what ends up in the trash.

  • Consider the Long-Term  –Think about the financial implications of long-term health care costs for yourself and loved ones versus paying a little more for groceries each month. Also, consider role-modeling this emphasis on quality ingredients for your children and grandchildren.


All of the label-reading and “detective work” related to eating organic can be complicated enough to make us throw our hands up in defeat and head to the nearest fast-food restaurant!

But only you can decide if – and to what extent – the benefits outlined above are worth the added time, effort, and cost of enjoying the foods behind those  USDA Organic labels.