In a society where the ingredient list on food labels looks more like a bad science experiment and no longer resembles food, I find great comfort in organic food.  Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation, reduce pollution, support animal health and welfare, and produce foods without utilizing harmful chemicals or drugs.  “Certified Organic” means the food item has been grown according to strict uniform standards set by the USDA.  The USDA Certified Organic seal verifies that prohibited pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), growth hormones, antibiotics and irradiation were not used.  Yes, that said sewage sludge!  Earning a USDA Organic Certification is an expensive process that many smaller farms may choose not to do even though they may be committed to organic farming practices.  When shopping at the farmers markets or local health food stores don’t hesitate to ask how the food was grown.

Studies have shown that organic produce is higher in antioxidants and lower in pesticide residues.  Different pesticides have been linked to a variety of issues including brain and nervous system toxicity, cancer and hormone disruption.  If you do purchase conventional produce, there are certain fruits and vegetables that contain significantly more pesticide residue than others.  The Environmental Working Group issues an annual “Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce”.  They list the “Dirty Dozen” which are the top products most contaminated with pesticide residue and the “Clean Fifteen” which are the least contaminated and relatively safe to buy conventionally.  The dirty dozen includes: apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, imported nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes.  The clean fifteen includes: avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes. If you are on a tight budget, try and purchase organic for the dirtiest ones or if you purchase conventional produce choose more of those that test low for pesticide residue.

The bottom line is if you are concerned about the integrity of your food and you do not want to consume toxic chemicals, drugs or genetically modified ingredients and you want to do your part for the environment, start buying organic whole foods, ideally from local sources.  I must point out too that organic doesn’t always equal healthy.  Junk food can be made using organic ingredients but those organic desserts and snacks are still not good for you.  Save the money you spend on all those processed foods and put it towards nutrient dense organic foods.

Nicole Bobe ~ Registered Dietitian, Fitness Instructor

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