What is organic?

Wellness Wednesday: What is Organic?

I am a stickler about reading packaging and researching my food. Yes, I am the guy in the grocery store looking at products with my phone out trying to figure out what Polysorbate 60 is, and once I find out... I wonder why anyone would want to ingest it! 😲


One of the things that I believe is important to understand is what organic means. I previously covered some of the sneaky tactics used by companies to make their product look more "natural" in my post on Greenwashing.


So what is Organic?

Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods.


These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster the cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.


The USDA Organic Certification indicates these foods are:

  1. Not using prohibited substances (most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides) for three years prior to harvest

  2. Not using genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

  3. Raising animals in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like grazing on pasture), feeding them 100% organic food, and not administering antibiotics or hormones

  4. Omitting artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors from multi-ingredient, processed foods with some exceptions, like baking soda in baked goods


Organic agricultural production still uses pesticides and herbicides that are approved by the USDA. Just because something is labeled "organic" does not mean that no pesticides or herbicides were used. They are just organic approved and meant to be less toxic and less damaging. 


For a product to carry the USDA organic label, a third party must verify at least 95% of the ingredients as organic. The phrase "made with organic ingredients" means at least 70% of the ingredients used counted as organic.


Organic food really relates to production, NOT nutrition.


While I would much rather have organic products than non-organic it is important to not just assume that organic means nutritious. Choosing clean AND nutritious foods is very important. 


Eating organic can be a little more expensive so here is a guide to help pick the most important foods to choose organic. 


Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

The below list of foods is kept up to date each year by the nonprofit, Environmental Working Group (EWG).


Clean 15

  1. Avocado

  2. Sweet Corn

  3. Pineapple

  4. Onions

  5. Papaya

  6. Frozen Sweet Peas

  7. Asparagus

  8. Honeydew Melon

  9. Kiwi

  10. Cabbage

  11. Mushrooms

  12. Cantaloupes

  13. Mangoes

  14. Watermelon

  15. Sweet Potatoes


Dirty Dozen

  1. Strawberries

  2. Spinach

  3. Kale, Collard, and Mustard Greens

  4. Nectarines

  5. Apples

  6. Grapes

  7. Bell and Hot Peppers

  8. Cherries

  9. Peaches

  10. Pears

  11. Celery

  12. Tomatoes


The Dirty Dozen™ is a trademarked term used to define the twelve crops that farmers typically use the most pesticides on, versus, the Clean 15™ which is also a trademarked term to describe the fifteen fruit and vegetable that have the lowest amount of pesticide residue.


This is not an exhaustive explanation of organic food but really just a starting point to help you understand your food better. Remember to keep digging and look for the best fuel to help you live a healthier life. 


I hope this information helps you on your next trip to the grocery store. 


Until next time! Make good choices and stay healthy! 😀