Golden WheatThe “organic” label appearing in our supermarkets isn’t just a symbol for a passing fad.

Widespread adoption of organic foods in large supermarkets is an indication of a growing consumer desire for fresher, healthier, and more environmentally conscious food choices.

But what, exactly, constitutes an organic product? Are all the claims that organic foods are healthier for you true? Why should anyone care about organics?

What is Organic?

First and foremost, organic food comes to be known as organic through the techniques used to farm and process it. In general, organic farming is focused on environmental sustainability.

Organic farmers avoid the use of synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides typically used to manage crop growth. Instead, organic farmers employ naturally occurring substances and use certain practices to manage their crops.

Natural fertilizers like manure and compost are used to promote plant growth. Naturally occurring pesticides and plant-killing compounds are used alongside good, old-fashioned hand weeding to avoid damage to crops.

Finally, crop rotation and the use of beneficial insects and birds promotes healthy soil and biologically diverse farmland.

The Benefits of Organic

In the end, do all of these practices result in products that are more nutritional for us humans and ultimately better for the environment?

Recently, comprehensive meta-analyses of hundreds of studies on organic versus non-organic foods found it to be the case that organic foods have on average 12% higher nutrient levels.

While this may not seem like a large enough number for all the trouble, those increased levels of nutrients in Americans’ most commonly consumed foods would result in measurable health benefits for the population.

Along with the increased level of nutrients, though, also comes the reduced level of pesticides.

While washing your fruits and vegetables helps to remove bacteria, dirt, and pesticides, many pesticides cannot be removed without peeling the skin, which also removes nutrients and fiber from your diet. While the levels of pesticides found in grocery store produce are strictly regulated for both organic and non-organic foods, exposure over long periods of time to multiple types of chemical pesticides found in non-organics is not fully understood.

Exposure to high enough levels of these chemicals can be particularly damaging to young and old people and to women who are pregnant.

The jury is still out on direct links between the farming practices of non-organic foods and increased incidence rates of diseases like cancer. However, it can be said that there is a significant health risk reduction when you stop any level of harmful chemicals entering your body.

As time goes on and larger, more in-depth studies take place, we’ll understand more and more about the foods we’re putting into our bodies. More people than ever before are becoming aware of their health and aware of the environment, which means we’re only going to delve deeper into the issues surrounding our food today.

Until we have all the facts, the best thing you can do is to eat the healthiest foods available to you.