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Organic Foods, GMOs, and Nutrition Labels

Organic vs. Non-Organic Foods

Organic food sales have increased within the past decade. Organic foods are sometimes marketed as better for you, more nutritious, and safer than non organic food. However, this is not the case. Organic does not mean healthier, does not mean pesticide free , and it does not mean more nutritious. One thing organic does mean is higher price. In some instances organic strawberries cost 45% more than non organic strawberries. Buying foods that are not organic is 100% okay and 100% safe.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “organically grown food is food grown and processed using no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Pesticides derived from natural sources (such as biological pesticides) may be used in producing organically grown food.” A food can be labeled as organic if it is grown in soil that has not had any prohibited substances for at least three years prior to harvesting. In instanced when a grower has to use a synthetic substance for a specific purpose, the substance must be approved according to criteria that examine its effects on human health and the environment.” Depending on what is being grown (produce, meats, etc.) will depend on the amount of regulations and going over all the regulations would take too long and I would never get to the point. Many people buy or market organic foods as better because they do not contain pesticides and we associate the word pesticide with bad. However, even organic foods contain pesticides. “The USDA organic regulations allow residues of prohibited pesticides up to 5 percent of the EPA tolerance.” The EPA states that a pesticide is “Any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest, use of plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant, or uses a nitrogen stabilizer.” The pesticide is not what is harmful it’s the dose that is harmful. Read that again. A lot of times we get caught up in pesticides or chemicals being harmful to us and forget its not the product that’s harmful it’s the dose. In reality there’s a ton of things that have pesticides and basically everything is made up of chemicals (if you’re interested Google the chemicals in a banana). The UDSA has something called the Pesticide Data Program (PDP). This is a program that monitors pesticide residue on food. Basically they monitor foods to make sure it is safe for human consumption. If the food is not safe they take it off the market. The PDP produces yearly reports for consumers of the foods they tested and the states they were tested from. These reports show that 99% of the organic foods tested has residue below the levels that the EPA established (below 5%). The report also shows that 96% of non organic foods met the less than 5% tolerable level. There is a small difference in the amount of foods that passed the requirement. Whether that small amount is worth paying more for organic foods is up to you. Whatever you buy remember to always wash your produce. Fresh fruits and vegetables are not available to everyone in the world. Some people are busting their butts to pay higher prices for organic foods because someone on Facebook told them they are feeding their kids poison if they don’t buy organic. This is not true. Organic does not mean better and non organic defiantly does not mean its poison.

Take Home Message on Organic Foods

You can buy organic or non organic foods and either one will be safe. Just because the food is labeled as organic does not mean it is healthier, more nutritious, or pesticide free. It might be a good idea to check your food privilege as many people cannot afford organic or do not have access to fresh produce.

GMOs

GMO stands for genetically modified organism. There is only 1 GMO meat and 10 GMO crops grown in the US. These include salmon, potatoes, summer squash, papaya, apples, canola, corn, cotton, soybean, sugar beets, and alfalfa. These are the only foods that can be genetically modified! However, companies can pay to have a “non GMO” label on their foods and it strictly for marketing since that food most likely is not made with GMOs in the first place. Most of the time GMO plants are used as food for animals or used to make ingredients in food. Contrary to popular belief GMO foods are safe to eat. Meat, eggs, and diary that come from animals fed GMO food are also just as safe. There are several hundreds of studies that confirm this. The FDA goes to great lengths to ensure that the foods we eat are safe and has information about GMOs on their website. GMOs have actually helped decrease the use of pesticides, have helped increase crop yields, and limit food waste. For example, GMO apples are available that resist browning when they are cut. A lot of times people throw out brown apples because they think that they have gone bad. GMO sugar beets help farmers control weeds in their fields due to sugar beets being resistant to herbicides. A GMO papaya was created in Hawaii to avoid the ringspot virus. The Rainbow papaya saved papaya farming in Hawaii. GMOs also help benefit consumers by making foods more accessible and affordable. GMOs are also important for creating medicine as GMOs were first used to create insulin.

Take Home Message on GMOs

GMOs are perfectly safe for human consumption and actually benefit both farmers and consumers. There is 1 type of meat and 10 crops that are genetically modified. Outside of those no other crop/meat is genetically modified.

Fresh vs. Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables can ripen during transport, also known as “postharvest”, or they can be picked and sold ripe, and this is called “vine ripened.” Frozen fruits on the other hand are usually vine ripened when they are frozen. So what is better frozen or fresh? Neither. Whether a produce is vine-ripened or post harvest ripened has little to no effect on its nutritional value due to plants absorbing most of their minerals during growth.

Personally, I like both fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables. I usually eat anywhere between 4-6 servings of fruits and veggies a day and they are a combination of fresh and frozen. I think each way has its pros and cons. Frozen fruits and vegetables usually cost less and last longer. I like to buy frozen fruit from Costco because I can get more for less. I also buy fresh spinach from Costco but I end up putting it in the freezer for smoothies. Spinach at Costco has about 13 servings for about $5 vs. 3 at Walmart for about $3.

Take Home Message on Fresh vs. Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

Neither fresh nor frozen fruits or vegetables are necessarily better. Eat your fruits and vegetables no matter if they are fresh or if they are frozen.

Food Labels and Marketing

When you go to the grocery store you see all types of labels. For example, “all natural” or “no added hormones.” But what do these mean? They might not mean what you think that they mean.

All Natural- the FDA defines all natural as “nothing artificial or synthetic has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food.” This term is only regulated in meat and poultry. It is not meant to address how the food is made, processed, manufactured, or the use of pesticides.

No Added Hormones- Look for this label in dairy and beef products. Added hormones are not allowed in poultry, eggs, or pork.

No Sugar Added- This means that no added sugars were added to the food and is separate from sugars that occur naturally. It does not mean sugar free. Sucrose and fructose are the most common forms of added sugars but added sugars are also lactose, dextrose, raw sugar, honey, maltose, molasses. Your body recognizes sugar as sugar no matter if its natural or not.

Gluten Free- Gluten is only in products that contain wheat. It does not mean it is better for you. Many times products that are made without gluten contain higher calories and fewer nutrients.

Calorie Free- If a food contains less than 5 calories it can be considered calorie free.

Reduce Fat, Saturated Fat, Cholesterol, Sodium, and Sugar- Foods can be labeled as “reduced” if it contains at least less than 25% less per serving.

Light Sodium- If the sodium content is reduced by 50% per serving it can be considered “light.”

Lean- Used on seafood and meat products if there is less than 10g of fat, less than 4.5g of saturated fat, and less than 95mg of cholesterol per serving.

Extra Lean- Used on seafood and meat products if there is less than 5g of fat, 2g of saturated fat, and less than 95mg of cholesterol

Nutrition labels can also be inaccurate up to 20%. Looking at the macronutrients and adding up the calories is more accurate.

Fat= 9 kcal

Carbs= 4 kcal

Protein= 4 kcal

Example:

Fat=9g

Carbs=48g

Protein=22g

9x9=81 calories from fat

48x4=192 calories from carbs

22x4=88 calories from protein

81+192+88=361 total calories

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Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). How GMO Crops Impact Our World. Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://www.fda.gov/food/agricultural-biotechnology/how-gmo-crops-impact-our-world

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). Use of the Term Natural on Food Labeling. Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/use-term-natural-food-labeling

Medicine, C. (n.d.). Steroid Hormone Implants Used for Growth in Food-Producing Animals. Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/product-safety-information/steroid-hormone-implants-used-growth-food-producing-animals

PDP 2019 Annual Summary. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/2019PDPAnnualSummary.pdf

PDP Analytical Methods. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/datasets/pdp/analytical-methods

Reeves, W. R., Mcguire, M. K., Stokes, M., & Vicini, J. L. (2019). Assessing the Safety of Pesticides in Food: How Current Regulations Protect Human Health. Advances in Nutrition, 10(1), 80-88. doi:10.1093/advances/nmy061

A Science Based Look at Genetically Engineered Crops. (2016). Retrieved October 31, 2020, from https://www.nationalacademies.org/our-work/genetically-engineered-crops-past-experience-and-future-prospects

U., & U. (2010). Pesticide Residue Testing of Organic Produce - 2010-2011 Pilot Study. Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Pesticide%20Residue%20Testing_Org%20Produce_2010-11PilotStudy.pdf