Thursday, November 13, 2008

Go organic?'s all the trend these days. You've heard about it, but maybe you don't know exactly what the hype is all about. Well, let me try to shed some light on this issue. First of all, why are people choosing to go 'organic'? Well, lately it primarily stems from two reasons: 1) increased awareness about the link between diet and health, specifically pesticide use and 2) increased desire to protect the environment. While pesticides have known benefits (killing potential disease-causing organisms and controlling insects and other pests), there are also known risks associated with their consumption (possible damage to the nervous system, disruption of the endocrine/hormone system leading to reproductive disorders, birth defects, immune suppression and other disorders, and potentially cancer-causing). These issues may be even more concerning for fetuses, infants and children since their internal organs are still developing and they have much smaller bodies.

So, what does organic mean? Well, organically produced foods must be grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetically modified ingredients.Slide 36 The standards for organic food production are regulated by the USDA. In terms of food labeling, something that is labeled as:
  • "100% Organic" must contain only organically-produced ingredients
  • "Organic" must consist of at least 95% organically-produced ingredients
  • "Made with organic ingredients" must contain at least 70% organically-produced ingredients
There are a few tips I like to offer when it comes to making informed decisions about going organic.
  • Organic does not = healthier! potato or tortilla chips, organic cookies, organic candy, organic donuts. When the organic craze was really on the roll, I loved seeing all the great, new organic products, and I'd hear people say how much 'healthier' these products are. One would still be better off snacking on fresh, whole vegetables and fruits more often than these types of organic foods.
  • Organic produce isn't necessarily pesticide-free. While organic produce tends to be lower in pesticide residues, according to testing by the USDA, 23% of organic produce contained detectable levels of pesticides in comparison to 73% of conventionally grown produce (the result of drift off or seepage into water systems from nearby conventional farms). However, only about 0.2% of the contaminated samples exceeded the EPA guidelines on pesticide residue limits.
  • Some organic foods offer more nutritional value in comparison to non-organic foods (i.e., vitamin C in leafy green vegetables and corn; iron and magnesium in leafy greens, potatoes and radishes). However, organic foods, especially produce, also costs up to 50% more, so if it's a choice between no vegetables/fruits or organically-grown...something is better than nothing, but more is better than a little. Research shows through and through that high intake of vegetables/fruits reduces the risk for many different types of chronic diseases, without regard to organic vs non-organic. So, one might be able to consume more of the affordable non-organic foods vs the organic foods, and this may be more beneficial in the long-run.
  • If you are concerned about pesticide consumption but still have a budget to stick with, you might consider prioritizing your organic purchases. "The Dirty Dozen" includes 12 items that are the most commonly contaminated, so it might be more worthwhile to purchase the organic version of these most often: Apples, cherries, grapes (imported), nectarines, peaches, pears, raspberries, strawberries, bell peppers, celery, potatoes, and spinach. The least likely to be contaminated, and therefore, the ones you may want to skip the big bucks for are: bananas, papayas, kiwi, broccoli, onions, asparagus, peas, mangoes, cauliflower, pineapple, avocado, corn, and peas. If budget is not a problem and/or if you want to go organic for reasons other than health, then by all means go all out because there's really no harm in it.
  • Aside from purchasing organically-produced foods, you can also do some other things to reduce your exposure. 1) Buy locally grown and fresh vegetables/fruits in season as less chemicals will be needed to prevent spoilage 2) Trim tops and outer portions of leafy vegetables where pesticide residue is most likely found 3) Peel and cook or wash/scrub produce with a brush to remove or reduce pesticide residue 4) Consume a wide variety of vegetables and fruits to reduce exposure 5) Purchase items that are subject to USDA regulations as imported items are not grown under the same regulations 6) Trim the fat from meat and fat/skin from poultry and fish as this is where pesticides tend to accumulate in the body.
I could go on about organic as I love this topic; however, this is just a blog (and probably too long as it is!). I just hope that it helps someone make a more informed decision when it comes to going organic:)

Eat well - Be well!
Slide 37


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