Organic or Not?

One the most frequent questions I get is, does organic produce make a difference?

The short answer is yes. Choosing organic produce is not only better for our health, it’s also better for farm workers and for the environment.

Conventional produce is grown with pesticides. These chemicals kill anything that wants to destroy food while it’s growing. Pesticides improve crop yield, increasing the quantity of fruits and vegetables. Pesticides also leak into the soil and water. People who eat organic foods have lower levels of pesticides in their bodies. Growing evidence indicates that pesticides cause health problems.  Different pesticides are associated with a variety of toxic effects.

  • Nervous system
  • Hormone system
  • Carcinogenic
  • Skin, eye, and lung irritation

Children are especially vulnerable. Pesticides pose a risk to vital organ systems that continue to grow and mature from conception throughout infancy and childhood. Exposure to pesticides and other toxic chemicals during critical periods of development can have lasting adverse effects both in early development and later in life. A particular issue to me is that pesticides are associated with increased risk of Parkinson’s.

[su_expanding_quote_without_link alignment=”full” source=”Stephanie Sacks, What the Fork are You Eating” full_quote=”Depending on doses, some pesticides can cause adverse effects on human health including cancer, acute and chronic injury to the nervous system, lung damage, reproductive dysfunction, and possible dysfunction to the endocrine and immune system. Low-dose, long-term exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in pesticides have adverse effects on overall human health “including links to infertility, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer.” short_quote=”Some pesticides can cause adverse effects on human health including cancer, injury to the nervous system, reproductive dysfunction, and possible dysfunction to the immune system.”]

Pesticides are harmful to farm workers. All health risks associated with ingesting pesticides in food are compounded by inhaling and constantly being exposed externally to pesticides.

[su_expanding_quote_web alignment=”full” source_site=”Civil Eats” source_url=”” full_quote=”There are an estimated 5.1 billion pounds of pesticides applied to crops annually in the United States, and thousands of farmworkers each year experience pesticide poisoning. It is well-documented that a significant number of the nation’s estimated 1–2 million farmworkers and their families are exposed to toxic pesticides. These exposures result in serious short and long-term health impacts, including stinging eyes, rashes, blisters, nausea, headaches and even death. Long-term impacts include delayed and include infertility, birth defects, endocrine disruption, neurological disorders and cancer.” short_quote=”1–2 million farmworkers and their families are exposed to toxic pesticides resulting in serious short and long-term health impacts”]

Pesticides are destructive to “non-target” wildlife like honeybees and butterflies.  Applied through mechanical sprayers, pesticides get absorbed into the soil, run off into our water and damage the environment.

[su_expanding_quote_without_link alignment=”full” source=”Joel Fuhrman, Super Immunity, The Essential Guide for Boosting Your Body’s Defenses to Live Longer, Stronger and Disease Free” full_quote=”The Environmental Protection Agency reports that the majority of pesticides now in use are probable or possible cancer causes. Studies of farm workers who work with pesticides suggest a link between pesticide use and brain cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple myeloma, leukemia, lymphoma, and cancers of the stomach and prostate.” short_quote=”The Environmental Protection Agency reports that the majority of pesticides now in use are probable or possible cancer causes”]

The longer answer on choosing organic is cost. Organic produce IS more expensive. But in the long-term, it’s an investment in better health and quality of life. This means less money on doctors and medicines. That said, it’s not possible to buy all organic. The key is to learn which foods have LOTS of pesticides and which aren’t so bad. I prioritize using the EWG: Dirty Dozen Guide and shop those organic or we consume less of them if they’re not organic. And I buy conventional EWG: Clean 15.

CAVEAT: It’s important to minimize exposure to pesticides, but regularly eating fruits and vegetables (even with pesticides) is more important not eating them at all. Less than one-third of adults in the US gets the recommended amount, the rates are even lower for teens. Eating plenty of vegetables and fruits is one of the healthiest choices we can make. They are loaded with nutrients beneficial to our health:

  • fiber
  • vitamins
  • minerals
  • phytochemicals (natural chemical compounds in plants)

It’s the mix of those nutrients that’s most helpful and protective. And we get that mix by eating a variety of plant foods.

I believe that as more people buy organic, increased demand will help bring down the costs of organic produce and also make organic food more available and accessible.

What To Do?

  • Use the EWG: Dirty Dozen Guide and EWG: Clean 15
  • Buy local as much as possible for freshness, taste and nutritional value. Even if it’s not organic, local farmers are much more in tune with the crops, and the produce will be fresher than transported for long distances. By making the choice to buy local we local farmers.
  • Use Community Supported Agriculture . Basically, a farmer offers “shares” of freshly  harvested vegetables, and we pick up a weekly box of seasonal produce throughout the farming season
  • If using conventional produce, peel fruits/ vegetables on the “dirty” list and discard outermost leaves of lettuce and cabbage
  • Always wash produce whether organic or not

Organic Foods on a Limited Budget

6 Ways to Eat Organic on a Budget

Originally published April 2017

For the Health of Our Children


For the health of our children, I believe one of the most important things we can do as parents is to model, motivate and teach them to enjoy a variety of whole foods, particularly fruits and vegetables.

[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”left” source_author=”Norah O’Donnell” source_title=”Baby Love: Healthy, Easy, Delicious Meals for your Baby and Toddler” full_quote=”Scientists believe infancy and the toddler years are the best window of opportunity to influence adult health because there is so much rapid growth and cell division in the body. It’s called “metabolic programming,” the idea that foods eaten in childhood can have long-lasting – even permanent – effects on how the body grows and wards off disease.” short_quote=”Scientists believe infancy and the toddler years are the best window of opportunity to influence adult health”]

From my daughter’s first bites of pureed foods, I talked about delicious flavors (lots and lots of “yummy yum yumm”, smiles, belly patting) and the wonderful benefits (strong bones, good eyes in babyesque language) every time we fed her. I tried to eat my meals with her as much as possible, modeling how vegetables, fruits and healthy food can be enjoyed. As she turned two, then three, four, five…we talked about the colors and textures of foods. I took her with me to the local Farmer’s market, pointing out various vegetables. She always got excited (and still does) about the most colorful vegetables (“Purple carrots! Beets!” Bell peppers!”). Yes, there were (and are) times when she doesn’t like something, but we keep re-introducing disliked vegetables and foods. I learned the best tactic from my amazing cousin Michelle. When her daughter said, “I don’t like it,” Michelle responded, “you’re just not in the mood for it today.” This left open the possibility that she might “like it” tomorrow, next week or next month. And eventually she always ends up liking whatever initially had been disliked.

[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”left” source_author=”Pamela Druckerman” source_title=”Bringing Up Bebé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting” full_quote=”In France, the idea of reintroducing a broad range of vegetables and other foods isn’t just one idea among many. It’s the guiding culinary principle for kids. The ordinary, middle-class French parents I meet are evangelical about the idea that there is a rich world of flavors out there, which their children must be educated to appreciate.” short_quote=”In France, the idea of reintroducing a broad range of vegetables and other foods isn’t just one idea among many. It’s the guiding culinary principle for kids.”]

From early on, my daughter participated in the kitchen. As a one- year old she sat on the counter as I showed her how to put spinach leaves, peas and other toddler friendly vegetables into a salad bowl. Often peas, edamame, cooked beets etc, would go into her mouth rather than the bowl. At age two, she was standing on a stepstool, helping put ingredients into the mixing bowl as we made pancakes or muffins. Gradually, she’s taken on bigger tasks.

Every meal, she generally eats three or more vegetables/fruits. I believe this strengthens her immune system and protects her against disease. Proof that it works is that when she started preschool at age two, she caught a cold only twice in the first six months, neither of which lasted more than a couple of days. By age five, the only visits to the pediatrician were annual wellness exams, and a couple of eye infections that were actually sensitivity to dairy. Considering we spend two months a year in Bolivia, her health is really remarkable.

Increasing evidence demonstrates  that people who eat more plant foods (vegetables fruits, beans and nuts/seeds) are less likely to get sick. They contain a wide range of powerful immune-supporting phytonutrients (plant chemicals) that protect our bodies. To get optimal amounts of these protective micronutrients, we have to eat lots of plant foods.

Today, the average American gets over 60% of their calories from processed foods – factory-made foods with added sweeteners, white flour and oils mixed with additives, coloring agents and preservatives to extend shelf life. Processed foods don’t have significant amounts antioxidants or phytochemicals. People eating this Standard American Diet get less than 10% of their calories from natural plant foods such as fruits, beans, seeds and vegetables (and of that 10% half the vegetable consumption is white potato products). This diet is not just slightly deficient in a few micronutrients; it’s massively deficient in hundreds of important plant-derived immunity-building nutrients necessary for good health. The result: the Standard American Diet (SAD) promotes disease.

Long-term observational studies demonstrate that eating plant foods is the most important factor in preventing chronic disease. Children who eat few vegetables get sick more often.

[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”left” source_author=”Joel Fuhrman MD” source_title=”Super Immunity” full_quote=”In most cases, a virus when exposed to a healthy well-nourished body would be harmless. A healthy body is highly resistant to viral attack. It’s been demonstrated that when children eat more vegetables, they have fewer infections. The same healthy diet that protects against the flu also protects against many cancers, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma and other diseases…Our vulnerability to the initial virus and our inability to fight it once we’ve become exposed is directly affected by the quality of our diet prior to being exposed. Nutrition makes us more susceptible to viruses and significantly impacts the length and severity of an illness.” short_quote=”It’s been demonstrated that when children eat more vegetables, they have fewer infections. “]

As parents we choose aim to be consistent and firm – eating vegetables and fruits is not optional. The first year or two I worked hard to motivate her and convince her. Now she genuinely takes pleasure in eating fruits and vegetables; it’s usually the first thing she eats on her plate.

I don’t believe in extremes, and generally nothing is banned. A basic rule in our house is no white flour or white sugar during the week. Occasionally she gets Goldfish or Oreos, candy and cookies. Birthday parties are a free-for-all. But the core part of our daily meals consists of natural, whole foods. We give thanks before our meals. We celebrate the pleasure of different flavors, colors and textures, and notice how very lucky we are that we can eat so much fresh, delicious foods.

Some great recipes to help children eat more vegetables:

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Pumpkin Waffles

Weelicious: Kale Pesto

Oh She Glows: Cauli-Power Fettuccine Alfredo


For more food empowerment:

Getting Young Children To Eat Healthy

Disease Proof Your Children Through Nutritional Excellence