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Processed foods, and organic vs. non-organic

Trying to figure out what is a processed food and what is not a processed food, and weather or not you should by organic can be a daunting decision.

As fitness, health, and nutrition professionals we often times tell people time and time again how important whole minimally processed foods are.

We also may get asked by clients, friends, and family members if organic vs. non-organic is better for your health.

I want to provide some thoughts on these two topics to help you make the best decision for yourself and your health.

Many people these days may not really know what it means when they hear the term "processed foods."

Here is the definition of processing: "performing a series of mechanical or chemical operations on (something) in order to change or preserve it."

If you were to apply that definition to food, just about everything is technically processed.

And you would be correct to say that.

In order to get your steak, the cow has to be butchered and the meat has to be cleaned and prep for your consumption.

If you wanted a cup of rice for dinner, that rice started as a grain, it was planted, it grew, it was harvested, and then prepared for you to buy off the shelf.

Both steak and rice have to be changed for you to consume it.

Both steak and rice are considered a part of a healthy and well balanced diet, but would you consider them processed foods?

Not sure about you, but I would not.

Mainly because the type of processing that does take place for these foods is 100% necessary for us to put it on our plate.

Rather calling this processing, I like to think of this as just necessary agriculture, and they both still would be considered whole minimally processed foods.

To put things in perspective, lets use oats as an example.

Here is how I would classify some food products from oats, and where the fit on this agriculture - processed food continuum.

Necessary agriculture: steel cut rolled oats

Minimally processed: homemade granola

Processed: granola bars

Ultra processed: oat milk

This does not mean you should never have things like oat milk and granola bars ever again.

I would suggest that you just be mindful of how much you are having, and look for some other alternatives to incorporate more whole and minimally processed foods.

When trying to decide how processed something is, I like to think ask myself, how many steps did the original food go through before it can be eaten.

For example, homemade granola are likely have less steps in them compared to granola bars that you may find in the store.

Organic vs. non-organic

In my last presentation on nutrition, I was asked about my opinion on organic vs. non organic foods, and which one is better for your health.

This is a challenging question.

There are a lot of factors that go into this, and I am going to do my best to be clear with my opinion below.

Pesticides and human health

This is the biggest concern when people hear organic vs. non organic foods.

It is no secret that pesticides are being used on our foods.

This is a growing and evolving part of health sciences, and to get a clear answer there has to be tightly regulated research and studies.

Unfortunately, the available evidence does not provide a super clear answer on the extent to which these pesticides harm our health.

There have been experiments done in animals where negative effects have been shown.

Since a lot these studies often use levels of pesticides that are way above what humans are typically exposed to and what is allowed to be used on crops, some of this evidence may not directly relate to humans.

That being said, this does not mean there is not a possible link between pesticides and health.

There certainly have been other accounts that may hint at a possible association between these pesticides and negative health outcomes.

What makes this hard to determine with 100% certainty is that there are many factors that need to be taken into account.

For example people who tend to buy organic typically have a more healthy lifestyle overall.

Which certainly would improve their quality of life, possibly regardless of weather you purchase organic vs. in-organic.

Nutrient availability

There are some vitamins and minerals that are slightly higher in organic foods vs. non organic foods.

For example, vitamin C is one vitamin that has been recorded to be higher in organic foods, but there tends to be a very small difference.

Omega 3 fatty acids have also been shown to be higher in organic meats, however other sources of omega 3 fatty acids exist so this may not have that big of an impact on the overall status of omega 3 intake.

Polyphenols, those compounds that help prevent many diseases, have been found to be higher in organic vs. non organic. However, the available evidence does not show clear benefit of this increase on human health.

I interpret this as, as long as you are having a well balanced diet, you should be okay with you nutrient intake no matter what type of food you buy.


Another major concern that people may have is the use of antibiotics on the animals that are sometimes used in non-organic farming.

The concern here is that this may influence the effectiveness of antibiotic use in medicine practices.

Most of the use of antibiotics come from how the animals are being treated and raised.

With more organic and free range open pasture type of farms having to use less antibiotics compared to conventional farming.


Even though there is a case for the inclusion of organic foods, and their benefits, one cannot discuss this without having a realistic approach.

The cost of organic foods does tend to be higher.

For some, that may not be an issue, but after working with a wide variety of people for years now, this is a major concern for some people's budget.

And rightfully so.

Sure you can argue that by going 100% organic is an investment in your overall health, but for some people, even buying non-organic fruits, veggies, and lean protein sources can be better than the processed food alternatives.

If some feels pressured to buy only organic, and does not feel comfortable spending the money for that, they may opt for a cheaper and less healthy alternative.

Which would not provide any health benefit.

My stance on organic vs. non - organic

Based the information I have gathered, here is my opinion on weather or not you should opt for organic or in-organic foods.

There tends to be a slight difference in the nutrient quality amongst organic vs. non- organic, favoring organic foods.

However, there is not a clear answer on if this slight difference impacts human health to a greater extent.

Based on the fact that most of the evidence that shows negative health effects from the use of pesticides is done on animals or performed out of the human body, and the amounts tested are way above the levels that humans are typically exposed to, people should not avoid non-organic versions of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins into their diet.

However, it should be noted that with the use of pesticides increasing, this field of research is growing, and some reports of negative health impacts have been documented in certain situations.

But the does however, makes the poison, and keeping these exposures low can be a big help.

That being said, I believe the case for organic vs. in-organic can be a preference based on what you are comfortable with for your own health.

Buy organic when you feel you can, but don't fear foods that have proven time and time again to be helpful for your health just because they are not organic.

These are my opinions, and if anyone wants to discuss this further drop a comment or email me at with your thoughts.

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