Finding the best organic food products can be a challenge. But, with due diligence and a dogged refusal to take anything for granted, you can make wise choices when purchasing organic products. Here are nine tips for ensuring the quality of the organic products you buy:
1. Look for the USDA Certified Organic seal on the food label. Seeing the word "Organic" on the label isn't enough. According to the National Organic Program's Organic Standards, products bearing the USDA Certified Organic seal must contain at least 95% percent organic ingredients.
2. Look beyond the food manufacturer's front-label claims. An article in Organic Lifestyle Magazine, entitled, "How to Read and Understand Food Labels: Ingredients to Avoid," cautions readers, "The first thing to remember when it comes to reading labels is to read the whole thing. Ignore labels on the front of the packaging that say natural or organic. Read the actual ingredients." The ingredient label should state which ingredients are organic.
3. Make sure the products contain zero trans-fats: hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Partially hydrogenated fats are, in fact, even worse, health-wise, than fully hydrogenated fats – a fact that would seem rather counterintuitive. Adding trans-fats to organic products lowers their quality considerably.
4. Make sure the products don't contain excitotoxins such as aspartame or MSG. MSG can be difficult to avoid, however, since it has so many derivatives, which include hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast, yeast extract, protein isolate, Torula yeast, and others. Avoid as many of these as possible.
5. Make sure the products contain no high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). HFCS is a highly processed sweetener that's considered by many scientists to be dangerous to human health and has, in fact, been linked to numerous diseases.
6. Look for organic products grown in the U.S. Foreign food products may be less-closely regulated than one would expect, despite bearing the USDA Certified Organic seal, since they are produced in foreign countries, where regulations may be less stringent.
7. Look for grass-fed, free range, and hormone-free products. While the free-range designation can sometimes be misleading, causing us to envision animals that are much freer than they have in fact been shown to be, these three designations can nevertheless help ensure that the organic foods you buy will be among the best available. The USDA has posted its definitions for these and other organic food designations on its website.
8. When possible, buy local. When you buy from local organic farmers (either direct from their farms or through your local farmer's market), you'll be able to discuss the farming practices used to produce the food, which can help ensure that no corners are being cut in producing high-quality organic food products.
9. Join an organic food co-op. Your local organic food co-op can take much of the guesswork out of researching the quality of the organic products you buy. You'll enjoy the benefit of the collective knowledge of those who run the co-op, as well as your fellow co-op members.
An article by The Organic Lifestyle magazine mentioned at the beginning of this post nicely sums up the entire issue of how to find the best organic food products. After stating that a healthy diet should consist of at least 80 percent "fresh, raw, organic fruits and vegetables," it advises the reader simply, "… [A]void the label issue altogether by avoiding that processed food. But if you are going to eat it, read the label carefully and choose wisely." And that's advice that we would all do well to follow.
BIO: Scott Humphrey is a freelance writer who frequently contributes to various blogs and publications on a wide variety of topics including custom food labels. When he is not in front of his computer he is hiking the mountains in upstate New York.