What Is Organic? Its Definition And The No. 1 Myth About An Organic Lifestyle
So, you have decided to go organic…
Is it because that is the buzzword or the most trending hashtag?
Is it because visits to farmer's markets and organic stores make a cool IG post?
Whatever your reason to go Organic is, I applaud you for starting to think in this direction and taking the first step.
But let me tell you the No.1 Myth about ‘Going Organic’.
For most people, going organic is eating food items that are labeled ‘Organic.’
So what’s the problem with that, you may ask? Well, the problem is this-
Going Organic, or living an organic lifestyle is not limited to just the food that is consumed.
An organic lifestyle is choosing an organic product v/s one that is made synthetically as soon as you get up, starting from the toothpaste your choose, and then when the day is over, choosing to sleep on a pillow made from organic cotton, versus one made from recycled polyester, or commonly known and labeled as ‘microfiber.’
Choosing organic or toxin-free produce and products is certainly the way forward. And I am sure the past two years have taught all of us very important lessons. Especially on keeping our health as our topmost priority and making the right decisions for our present and the future.
If you are a new or a soon-to-be parent, there couldn’t be a better time to do this – a time for a fresh start for you and a clean start for the new one to come into…..
Learn more about - How To Prepare The Body For A Healthy Pregnancy?
What exactly is Organic - by definition and in a real practical everyday sense?
The term “Organic” is an umbrella term commonly used for produce, products, and lifestyle commodities that have been grown or processed devoid of chemical pesticides or herbicides, are free of chemical fertilizers, and do not originate from bioengineered genes (GMOs).
What is organic animal produce?
In the case of animal produce, Organic could mean that the livestock has been fed organic feed and are not administered growth hormones, antibiotics, or any animal by-products.
What are organic products or commodities?
In case of everyday use products – toothpaste, cleaners, home care products, etc. Organic would mean products that are manufactured using only natural ingredients or derivatives of natural ingredients.
A switch to a complete organic life can be daunting – demotivating even at times– the extent of change that could be achieved is massive and challenging at many levels – be it conventional beliefs, generational differences, or the economics of running your household….
A question that I am presented with very often and surely you will be asked – from people around to shopkeepers, your family & friends – We know that the switch to organic is good, necessary even in some cases.
But let us first understand this -
Why and to what extent are toxins hidden in everyday items harmful?
Our everyday food items, produce, and products are laced with industrial chemicals, toxins, and artificial flavorings and colorings that are harmful to us. As per the US FDA norms, Fewer than 40 synthetic substances can be used in organic packaged foods, and only after they have been reviewed by independent and government experts. By contrast, thousands of chemicals can be added to conventional packaged foods, including preservatives, flavors, and colors linked to health problems.
One of the most common chemical presence in food items is Sugar masked under a myriad of terms. Sucralose, aspartame, saccharin, etc.—are many times sweeter than sugar, without the sugar.
Research has looked into links to cancer, migraines, weight gain, craving sweets, increased risk of metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Artificial sweeteners may even alter the good bacteria in your gut. And that’s just to name a few of the possible side effects!
The FMCG industry which is driven by greed and a unilateral goal of profiteering plays many such games – renaming products or additives or citing biased research papers declaring additives as safe.
A very common example of this is Potassium and sodium benzoate, they are preservatives added to soft drinks and juices to inhibit the growth of mold, bacteria, and yeast. This chemical has been repeatedly cited as safe with papers to back up the claim, however, what the papers don’t say is that when paired with vitamin C, as well as light and heat, it can form benzene, a strong carcinogen.
BPA is not necessarily a food ingredient but is found in the epoxy resin lining aluminum cans, the lining of some glass jar lids, and some plastic bottles and containers.
While it has been banned in baby bottles and infant formula containers, it’s still allowed in others. There is more and more research linking BPA to many reproductive disorders, such as infertility, cancer, and abnormalities in child growth. Look for BPA-free cans and containers and avoid microwaving in any kind of plastic.
I could go on and talk about reading labels efficiently or understanding what BPA Free means but I shall leave that for another day – However, before moving on, let's look at another big component in our food chain that calls out for the shift to organic produce.
It has been widely accepted that both synthetic and organic biopesticides have harmful health effects.
For instance, one review found that pesticide exposure may be associated with a higher risk of Parkinson’s disease and could alter specific genes involved in its development.
According to one study in over 30,000 female spouses of pesticide applicators, increased exposure to organophosphates was linked to a significantly higher risk for hormone-related cancers, such as breast, thyroid, and ovarian cancer. Reference link - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26150671
Another review of human, animal and test-tube studies had similar findings, reporting that exposure to organophosphate pesticides to be associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer over time. Reference link - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32668751
The list of side effects of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc. is long enough to shut the argument on whether or not we should move to Organic Produce.
How do we make the switch to Organic?
Given the wide range of everyday items and food products, produce, and animal products that need an organic shift, it is important to prioritize.
2. Pick the right packaged food after reading the ingredients
When it comes to how to pick up the right packaged foods, – the principle behind this is simple, look for the ingredients label and if there are ingredients that you don’t recognize or are listed as a combination of alphabets and numbers, you might want to consider looking for healthier substitutes or eliminating them. In general, this list would be processed foods, prepackaged or ready-to-eat meals, instant foods like cup noodles, etc.
The move from these quick-fix foods to real foods can be challenging but a little bit of planning and re-organization of the pantry can go a long way in accelerating your goals to a healthier way of living.
3. Choosing the right everyday items
Next in line would be everyday use food items – bread, biscuits, juices, condiments, etc. This is an easier one, Bakery products can very easily be replaced by-products from local or home bakers – most metro cities have multiple smaller scale bakeries that produce goods in small batches with limited or no use of additives. A good number of home bakers are active in this sector and are an excellent option as far as you can validate the source.
4. Replace these packed items with homemade ones
When it comes to juices or condiments, some effort in moving from packaged juices to actual fruits and fruit juice at home will not only enhance health but are far tastier and more palatable.
Likewise for condiments like ketchup or salad dressings or jams – Move to homemade ones – they are far easier to make than they seem so, alternatively find local sources, home cooks, or conscious food manufacturers who produce small-batch delicacies without compromising on nutrition.
5. Fruits and Veggies
The next big move would be fruits and vegetables – I am often asked, why not move to organic fruits and vegetables before the other more complicated changes – isn’t it much easier?
Yes, it’s much easier to simply switch your buying patterns and start buying organic – but what is more important is eliminating the bigger evil.
Even amongst the fruits and vegetables, if you wish to prioritize, eliminate the set of vegetables & fruits which have been notoriously labeled as the dirty dozen.
Here’s the list below for your reference -
- Kale, collard, and mustard greens
- Bell and hot peppers
"Dirty Dozen," is a list released by the Environmental Working Group based on pesticide residue levels of fruits and vegetables based on samples taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Conversely, if the elimination or replacement of dirty dozen seems difficult due to availability or cost reasons, focus on the group of fruits and vegetables marked as the clean 15.
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Honeydew melons
Unlike the dirty dozen, the produce in the clean 15 groups tested significantly low on pesticide residue.
Irrespective of the list you pick on – making it a habit that every produce hits the shower first before it hits the refrigerator will go a long way in accelerating your journey to clean eating. Soaking fruits and vegetables in a huge bowl with a pinch of salt, turmeric and a tulsi leaf for half an hour has its benefits and is a natural way to remove the surface chemicals.
6. Cleaning products at home
Further on, let's speak about everyday use products – cleaning agents, detergents, etc.
Our skin is our largest organ – yes, you read it right – Skin is an organ and has the highest amount of exposure – keeping this in mind, prioritize the switch for the products where your skin has the highest exposure.
Start with your detergents and by the time you have a little one crawling around the house, you should have ideally switched all your house cleansing products as the floor to skin impact is the highest for babies and that is one change your baby will thank you for!
7. Go for toxin-free skincare products
Talking about your skin, do you know about the harm done by the so-called ‘beauty and skincare industry?’ Everything that you apply on your skin as well as hair gets absorbed and goes inside your system. Lookout mainly for sulfates, parabens, phthalates, triclosan, toluene, talc in the ingredients mentioned. If you find any, then that’s a product you want to stay away from.
Does the list end here? No, it doesn’t – It goes on to your clothes, your kitchenware, your non-stick cookware, your perfumes and air fresheners, your upholstery, linens, and so on…
Your endeavors to make your home a safe and clean space to welcome a new life can be a haven of good health as long as you chalk out a plan to align with your intentions, your budget, and the time you can invest – While you plan this, keep in mind that all your resources (Time, energy and Money) will see some drastic changes with your little one coming into your life.
The extent of the changes you make should go on only to the length you can be sure of sustaining – the benefits from moving to organic produce are long term and having a short gig of living a clean organic life has little or no benefit.
Is it expensive to switch to Organic?
I’ve heard that it is expensive to switch to an organic lifestyle. Is it true?
The switch to organic doesn’t mean breaking the bank and shopping at upscale fancy stores or spending weekend mornings at farmer's markets miles away from where you live. Also, think about the medical expenses that toxin exposure can eventually lead to in case god forbid, one’s health suffers in such a way that leads to hospitalization and operations.
The switch to an organic lifestyle has to have sustainability at its core and hence it is prudent to be practical and pick the habits, products, and changes that you can be sure of making a part of your lifestyle for years ahead.
You will have that friend or neighbor advising you how this change isn’t needed or is wasteful or it is just too expensive to live an organic lifestyle – I have even heard a few arguments stating exposure to toxins can help build immunity for the future (LOL).
Do your research here – trust your gut and reach out to the multiple online resources that can help you gain clarity – Many brands indeed use the word organic to promote their sales but that doesn’t take away the importance of organic produce and products, nor does it render the actual organic products and produce any less valuable.
Good luck while you go green…
Article by - Amit Shah