Can you trust "organic" food labels?

May 13, 2008
Volume 05    |   Issue 18

As organic foods grow in popularity, more and more people want to know if they?re getting the best organics. In fact, I receive a lot of questions about the labels and the quality of organics. Fortunately, it?s easy to figure out which organic foods are best.

There are three different categories of organics that indicate how much of any product you buy is organic and how much isn?t. And every label on organic products has a simple code that will tell you which category the product fits in.

For instance, if the label says "100% organic" that means the product contains only organic ingredients. This is the highest organic quality you can buy.

But if the label simply says, "Organic" at least 95% of the ingredients, by weight, are organic. But here?s the catch. The remaining 5% or less can be only ingredients that are not available in an organic form. An example of a product that?s not organic is whey protein. While it may not be GMO, there?s no organic whey protein powder at this time. If the label says any ingredient in the product is organic, like wheat or milk, for instance, all of the wheat or milk must be 100% organic.

The third category - "Made with organic" - means that 70-95% of the ingredients are organic.

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No product with "organic" on its label can contain any materials that are genetically engineered, irradiated, or grown in soil treated with sewage sludge. Sewage sludge may contain heavy metals and other toxins.

What if a product has some organic ingredients, but not enough to qualify for any of the above categories? If there are less than 70% organic ingredients, the main part of the package can?t use the word "organic." Individual organic ingredients may, however, be listed in tiny type on the impossible-to-read ingredient panel.

In the future, you may see products displaying a seal saying "USDA Organic." Manufacturers can use this seal only on food or non-food products that are at least 95% organic. While using this seal isn?t mandatory, it does eliminate some of the confusion.

There?s disagreement about whether or not organically grown foods are higher in antioxidants and other nutrients than those that are conventionally grown. However, no one can dispute that at the very least, organic foods contain fewer pesticide toxins. This benefits your health and the health of the soil in which farmers grow various ingredients. And pesticides don?t just remain in the top few inches of soil. They work their way into our water supply, further compounding our exposure to unwanted materials.

While organic foods are usually a little more expensive, in my opinion they?re well worth the extra cost if you can possibly afford them. If not, eat organic whenever you can.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,

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