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Living Green: Eating Organic

We continue to be an advocate of healthy living, and part of living a life full of adventure is fueling your body with healthy — and organic — foods.  Most of us know that eating organic is really good for us, but the whole organic world can be confusing. Does organic really make a difference? What are the benefits, and how is it affordable? We want to break down what it means to eat organic and help empower you to incorporate organic foods into your diet on a regular basis.

What organic means:
The term organic is used to describe how foods are grown and processed, and to be labeled as such, they must comply with certain standards. In the United States, organic crops have to be grown without genetically modified organisms (GMOs), synthetic pesticides, and petroleum-based or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Organic livestock used for meat, eggs and dairy products are required to have access to the outdoors and fed with organic food. They also cannot be given antibiotics, growth hormones or animal byproducts, the use of which can lead to mad cow disease and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Benefits of organic:
Organic foods often have more nutrients, such as antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, than conventionally grown foods and can even be great alternatives for people who suffer from certain food allergies. Organic food also tends to be more fresh because it’s prepared without preservatives that allow food to last longer. Organic farming is gentler on the environment, with less water and energy usage, less pollution and more fertile soil.

GMOs and pesticides:
GMOs are plants that have been changed on the DNA level in ways that don’t occur naturally or as part of traditional crossbreeding methods, a process often done to make crops resistant to herbicides. Pesticides include herbicides, insecticides and other chemicals that are used to kill insects and any organisms that could threaten the health of plants or animals. While organic products contain no GMOs, they do contain some pesticides, though the pesticides they contain are naturally derived and at lower levels than non-organic food.

Fruits and veggies – when organic matters:
Pesticide levels vary when it comes to different fruits and vegetables, which means some non-organic produce is considered safe to eat. Produce with already low levels of pesticide include asparagus, avocado, cabbage, cantaloupe, eggplant, frozen sweet peas, grapefruit, kiwi, mango, mushrooms, onion, papaya, pineapple, sweet corn and sweet potatoes. Because you don’t have to buy organic of these “Clean 15” fruits and veggies, your budget can catch a break. Foods with higher pesticide levels are best organic and include apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, hot peppers, kale and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, summer squash and sweet bell peppers. With all produce, however, it’s still a good idea to wash and scrub it thoroughly and to eat a diet with variety.

Ways to shop organic:
Shopping organic can be a fun experience and doesn’t have to be as expensive as you think! Going to farmers’ markets is a fantastic way to buy organic produce, as is joining a food co-op or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. A natural foods cooperative generally offers discounts to members who pay a yearly membership fee, and CSA farms allow people to buy large shares of product from their local farm. Talk about fresh!

Tips for buying organic:
Other great ways to affordably buy organic are getting fruits and veggies when they’re in season (that’s when they’re the freshest and least expensive), comparing organic prices among different venues (grocery stores, outdoor markets, freezer sections, etc.) and reading food labels carefully.

The reason organic meats and crops are generally more expensive is that they’re a bit more labor intensive for farmers, and organic feed and organic certification can be pricey — but the health benefits and positive effects on the environment are very much worth it.

To gain resources and more information about all things organic, including the standards involved, visit the USDA’s website. Educating yourself and taking healthy steps forward will allow you to experience more of the world and its beauty!

This is Part 2 in our Green Living Series, a collection of blog posts centered on simple, healthy ways to detoxify your life.