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Monday, December 3, 2012

Good Eats: ‘Organic’ can be expensive, so know when it matters and when it doesn’t

By Rachel Crabtree
KyForward contributor

We hear it talked about and see it plastered on packages … so what’s all the hype about organic foods?

Put simply, “organic” foods are ones that come naturally from the earth without man-made additives or modifications – such as insecticides. Years of use and subsequent ill-effects from these “non-organic” products have led to the current craze over organic food. But it can all be so confusing – not to mention expensive – that we just want to plug our ears and scream! Let’s take a look at when organic matters and why, as well as how you can shop cheaper and smarter.

Thirty-two years ago, my dad, a natural resources major in college, moved us to rural Kentucky to start “living off the land” and farming organically. So it’s not a new idea – it has just recently become more hip, trendy and, quite honestly, relevant.

In that same time period, big farms and food producers have figured out that if you can genetically modify a seed (corn, for instance) to carry a chemical that will repel or kill bugs, they can produce more food faster. Same is true for topical pesticides and insecticides.

According to the EPA website: “The health effects of pesticides depend on the type of pesticide. Some, such as the organophosphates and carbamates, affect the nervous system. Others may irritate the skin or eyes. Some pesticides may be carcinogens. Others may affect the hormone or endocrine system in the body. EPA’s human health risk assessments for many pesticides are available on the web.”

Because of the potential for harm, it is crucial to long-term health that we avoid as many of these as possible.

In most grocery stores, you will find an organic produce section, organic dairy, cereals, juice, crackers, cookies, chips – the list is endless. And you can bet anything that is labeled “organic” is going to cost more. Because most of us can’t afford to buy everything organic, it’s important to know when it matters and when it doesn’t.

Most boxed/packaged foods that say organic will have a long list of strange ingredients that you won’t recognize anyway – so the fact that they’re organic doesn’t make it good for you. The same is true with juices – look for added ingredients, including sugar. Dairy may say it’s organic, but that doesn’t necessarily make is worth the extra $2 to $3 you’ll pay because the standards for dairy are different than any other food product. While you shouldn’t just disregard these organic products off-hand, you should educate yourself and pay attention to the ingredients.

Produce is the easiest and perhaps most important food to go organic with. However, you can be selective in your choices. If it has a thick peel that you’ll be removing or not eating (bananas, squash, pineapples) then you don’t have to worry about the pesticides as much. Buy organic produce that you each whole! A great resource that comes out each year from the Environmental Working Group is the “Clean 15” and the “Dirty Dozen” (click here). And if it’s absolutely unavailable or out of your budget, put ½ cup of vinegar in your kitchen sink, fill it with water, and soak your produce for 15 to 20 minutes; studies have shown this will remove the majority of chemicals.

Rachel Crabtree was born in Ohio but moved with her family to rural Casey County in Kentucky at the age of 7. She was raised on a farm full of chickens, goats and organic gardens. Rachel is a 1997 graduate of the University of Kentucky and worked as a stockbroker for several years before moving to a career in her true area of passion: fitness and health. She currently owns Well Fed! in Lexington, which provides healthy, nutritionally balanced, portion-controlled, fresh, organic/local foods for individuals and families.



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