What Does ‘Organic’ Really Mean?

This word seems to be on many people’s lips these days, but with it comes great burden and so much confusion!

So, let’s start with a basic definition…  

Organic produce (and other ingredients) are grown without the use of:

  • Pesticides
  • Synthetic fertilizers
  • Sewage sludge
  • Ionizing radiation
  • Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) and/or using bioengineering technology

Also, animals that produce meat/poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones. [1]

When it comes to bath, body & cleaning products and cosmetics labeled as ‘organic’, this refers to the product itself, as well as how the ingredients were grown, produced and/or processed to create the product. [2]

Organic food & food products with ‘organic’ on the label

The demand for organic food, specifically produce, has skyrocketed over the past two decades, with the growing concern over our exposure to pesticides driving the buying and consumption of organic foods.

Research and several experts have validated the idea that if you want to reduce your exposure to chemical residues (such as pesticides), the best way to do that is to choose more organic products in your health routine. [3]

Foods to consider buying organic over conventional counterparts

According to the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List, updated for 2019 – you should consider purchasing the following organic produce:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

The goal of the Dirty Dozen list, which is updated annually, is to let consumers know which fruits and vegetables have the highest amount of pesticide residues. [4]

How can I be assured that what I’m buying is actually organic?

In the United States, the USDA has identified 3 categories of labeling organic products [5, 6]: 

  • 100% Organic: Made with 100% organic ingredients
  • Organic: Made with at least 95% organic ingredients
  • Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms).Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package.

In the United States, a product is considered legally organic when the product: 

  • bears the USDA Organic Seal
  • has been certified organic, and
  • contains 95% or more organic ingredients.

In Canada, foods and food products are regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations, products must be certified organic according to the Canadian Organic Standards and carry the ‘Canada Organic’ logo. [3, 7]

However, a food product must also be free of artificial food additives, including artificial sweeteners, preservatives, coloring, flavoring (and that includes MSG) in order to be labelled ‘organic’. [8] 

Try not to be confused with, and swayed by the term ‘natural’, commonly being used by marketers, with the food or product also being ‘organic’. In reality, the term ‘natural’ can be used on any product label without third party verification, unlike the ‘organic’ label. [6]

Personal Care & Beauty Products with ‘Organic’ on the label

Certified Organic personal care & beauty products must adhere to the following standards: 

  • NO animal testing
  • NO GMO’s
  • NO controversial chemicals
  • NO parabens and phthalates
  • NO synthetic colors, dyes or fragrances
  • NO nano particles

Whether to use natural and/or organic personal care products is up to your preferences and personal values.  

But whenever you’re introducing new products into your routine or for your family, you should always do your research. Look up the ingredients, figure out if they are natural or organic – if that’s important to you!

RECIPE 

Sautéed Organic Greens w/ Garlic

Ingredients  

2 large bunches of mixed cruciferous greens (chard, collards, kale and/or mustard greens)

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 Tb avocado oil

1 Tb sherry vinegar or cider vinegar

½ tsp sea salt, plus more to taste

Few pinches red pepper flakes

Pinch of pepper 

Preparation 

Rinse greens well. Tear leaves away from stems and discard stems, and coarsely chop greens. 

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook garlic and pepper flakes briefly, then add greens (a few handfuls at a time), stirring in between.

Stir in vinegar, salt & pepper. Then cover. 

Cook until just tender, 2-5 minutes, depending on the type of greens and your preference for “wiltyness”. 

Best enjoyed immediately after cooking. 

REFERENCES

[1] Organic.org https://organic.org/faqs/

[2] The Spruce Eats (May 2019) – What Does “Organic” Really Mean?

[3] Choose Canada Organic – Organic 101: What Does Organic Mean?

[4] Healthline (September 2018) – The Dirty Dozen Foods: 12 Foods That Are High In Pesticides

[5] The Balance Small Business (January 2019) – Learn How to Tell When “Organic” on the Label is True

[6] The Balance Small Business (October 2018) – How To Shop For Real Organic Food & Products

[7] Canadian Food Inspection Agency (January 2019) – Regulating Organic Products in Canada

[8] Healthline (May 2016) – What Is Organic Food, and Is It Better Than Non-organic?

[9] Healthline (June 2016) – Healthy Cosmetics

[10] The Balance Small Business (November 2017) – Do Organic Body Care Products Need to Be Certified? 

An additional resource: 

EWG’s Dirty Dozen List (2019)