Nutrition Corner: The organic label and what it means

April 10th, 2018 11:50 am

It seems that walking down the grocery store aisle is like walking down an outburst of “buy me, buy me!” Learning what the marketing labels are really saying is important to making an educated purchase.

Many labels now carry the word “organic.” Organic means different things to different people; however, to be labeled organic USDA has a very specific meaning. The National Organic Program or NOP states that organic is a labeling term that indicates the food or other agricultural product is produced through approved regulatory methods.

When farm fresh produce or a packaged food item is labeled “Certified Organic,” this means the growers have committed to growing crops in sustainable ways that comply with the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program Regulations. These regulations focus on everything from seed source to soil fertility produce and livestock handling and pest management. Foods labeled 100% organic with the USDA Organic seal are the only foods guaranteed to be 100 percent organic. Certified Organic Farms pay fees for certification and maintenance of their certification. They have regular inspections of their operations.

When shopping for organic foods, it is important to look for the USDA organic label.

The organic seal also verifies that producers met animal health and welfare standards, did not use antibiotics except in illness or growth hormones, used 100% organic feed and provided animals with access to the outdoors. The organic seal also verifies that the product has 95% or more certified organic content. If the label claims it is made with specified organic ingredients, you can be sure those specific ingredients are certified organic.

Some labels state the product is “Made with Organic.” If it states this, then it must contain at least 70 percent certified organic ingredients (not including salt or water) and must state which ingredients are organic. These products may contain up to 30 percent of allowed non-organic ingredients. All ingredients, including the 30 percent non-organic ingredients, must be produced without GMOs or other prohibited substances such as most synthetic pesticides.

Nutritionally speaking, organic foods have not shown to be superior to conventionally grown or raised foods. Organic labeled foods contain less pesticide residue, but the amount of pesticide residue found in conventionally farmed produce is at acceptable levels and is not known to harm us.

Buying organic is a personal choice. Understanding what the organic label means is good consumer practice. Talk with the grower; it is possible they meet the organic requirements as in not using prohibited pesticides, but are not certified USDA organic.

Here is a great recipe for making your own grain bowls. Recently, these have popped up in the media which advertises them as now being available in grocery stores. You can make them yourself at home.

Start with a whole grain. Most use brown rice but you can use barley (not pearled), quinoa or farro.

Choose your veggies in a variety of colors, fresh or frozen, both work.

Top with healthy proteins like canned beans, chopped hard cooked eggs, sliced chicken breast or unsalted nuts.

Choose the flavor depending on whether you’re eating it for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Fruit and Nut Breakfast Bowl

Select your grain. Cook according to directions on the package. Place in a bowl. Choose a topping like bananas, sliced apples, or any thawed frozen fruit. Add the protein, your favorite seed or nuts. Top with the seasoning — brown sugar, cinnamon and/or milk.

Vegetarian Salad Bowl

Select your grain. Cook according to directions on the package. Place in a bowl. Top with chopped cucumber, tomatoes, peppers and celery. Add the protein, black, pinto beans or chick peas. Top with the seasoning — your own homemade dressing or olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Garnish with shredded low-fat cheddar cheese.


Nutrition Corner Mary R. Ehret Corner Mary R. Ehret

Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at