What Does “Organic” Mean?

For the word “organic” to be on a label, the product must meet certain United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-approved guidelines. Organic produce has been grown without the use of prohibited substances, which includes most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Organic meat comes from animals that are raised in living conditions that accommodate their natural behaviors, fed organic food, and not given antibiotics or hormones. Learn more on the USDA website.

Organic certification is regulated by the government and can be an expensive process to go through. For this reason, it is possible that smaller local farms will not have the certification even if they follow organic farming practices.

Should I Only Eat Organic Food?

There is no definitive research that says organic food is significantly more nutritious than conventional food. Organic foods usually cost more, may have a shorter shelf life, and may be smaller in size than conventional foods. If you are concerned about additives in your food or farming styles, you may choose to buy budget-friendly organic foods, buy locally grown foods, or choose the organic option when it comes to the “dirty dozen.” However, don’t eliminate other important foods just to save for a small amount of organic foods. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, whether they are organically or conventionally grown, is the most important. Learn more on the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) website.

If you choose to eat organic foods, do not spend more money to purchase organic “junk food” like snack foods. Instead purchase certified organic items that are the most nutritionally dense like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources.

Try Buying Local

You can also shop locally for produce. You will often be able to get local produce at its peak point of freshness. Most produce sold at local stands and farmers markets was picked within the past few days. In some cases, it is also less expensive to buy produce from a local farmer depending on the season. You can even ask the farmer about their growing practices.

Another option is to purchase a share of a farm. This is referred to as a CSA. CSA stands for community supported agriculture. A CSA program gives you the opportunity to pay for your share of produce ahead of time and the farm supplies you your share (a box of fruit and vegetables) at a set interval usually weekly or bi-weekly. This may be the most economical way to eat local and/or organic produce. It is often cheaper than buying individual items at the grocery store. To find a farmers market or CSA program where you live, visit www.localharvest.org

If your primary concern is food safety, read Food Safety During Cancer Treatment to learn how to safely prepare and store food.