Cancer experts and registered dietitians recommend eating five or more servings of a variety of veggies and fruits each day. But in addition to choosing which foods to eat (and figuring out whether potato chips count as a vegetable), also consider how the fruits, vegetables, and processed foods you buy were produced.
What is organic? Organic farming relies on crop rotation, manure, compost, biological pest control (for example, ladybugs eating aphids), and other so-called “low-input” methods to control pests, enhance the soil, and fertilize crops. Organic farmers can use some pesticides that are approved by the U.S. National Organic Standards, but the approved list is far shorter than that of conventional farming.
How does my apple get an organic sticker? Buying foods with the sticker that says “USDA organic” means the product was produced by certified farms or processors using consistent, uniform standards set by the US Department of Agriculture. But beyond that, things get a little confusing. Organic farmers aren’t required to use the USDA sticker, so sometimes produce doesn’t have a sticker or claim to be certified organic by any of more than 80 other private or state-run certifying agencies. Don’t worry, any of these certifications means the producer meets and maintains the USDA criteria.
Why such strict rules about pesticides? Pesticides were originally used to protect crops pests and mold, but as we learn more about the unintended effects of pesticides on humans and other animals and plants, many people are concerned about a link between pesticides and cancer.
Eating more fruits and vegetables is something you can do to be as healthy as possible, and buying organic foods when possible is a great way to reduce your exposure to pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormone.