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

I Choose Real Food

What is real food?  Food that we have eaten for most of human history. One way to cut through all the confusion is to think of foods that come from nature. Foods that people were eating before the twentieth century when laboratories and machines started making food products, stripping out natural nutrients and in their place inserting artificial flavors, chemicals and other additives.

[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”right” source_author=”Nina Planck” source_title=”Real Food, What to Eat and Why” full_quote=”Real foods are old. These are foods we’ve been eating for a long time – in the case of meat, fish and eggs, for millions of years. We’ve been eating butterfat for at least ten thousand years. By contrast, margarine – hydrogenated vegetable oil made solid and dyed yellow to resemble traditional butter – is a modern invention, about a century old. Real foods are traditional. Fruits and vegetables are best when they’re local and seasonal; grains should be whole, fats and oils unrefined. From the farm to the kitchen, real food is produced and prepared the old-fashioned way. The traditional methods of farming, processing, preparing and cooking enhance nutrition and flavor, while the industrial method diminishes both.” short_quote=”Real foods are old. These are foods we’ve been eating for a long time”]

The marketing of this industrialized food has created tremendous noise and confusion about food consumption. It’s become not just necessary, but vitally important to learn where our food comes from and to make educated choices about what we eat.

Chronic disease – diabetes, cancer, heart illness and neurological disorders – are increasingly linked to fast food, junk food and processed food, and sadly have become norm in the US.  I don’t want a chronic or life-threatening illness, not for me nor for those I love. So I steer away from processed foods and seek out real foods.

[su_expanding_quote_book alignment=”center” source_author=”Kris Carr” source_title=”Crazy, Sexy Cancer” full_quote=”But of course I eat food, you say. Do you? Food isn’t made in a laboratory. Today we’re infusing our food with chemicals, hormones, pesticides and countless other toxic substances. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is tap dancing on the last nerve of our health. When we make the connection between what we consume and how we feel, a great transformational shift can occur. Most people live to eat and don’t eat to live. We wake up sick and tired on a daily basis. Allergies, high cholesterol, low-level depression and chronic diseases are just accepted parts of aging.” short_quote=”But of course I eat food, you say. Do you? Food isn’t made in a laboratory”]

After a huge amount of research, I’m convinced that the simplest way to make food choices is to go back to real foods; foods that are more a product of nature “than a product of industry”

  • Foods that don’t need ingredient labels: fruits, vegetables!
  • Whole foods that typically only have 1-ingredient like “brown rice”
  • Packaged foods generally made with no more than 5 unrefined ingredients
  • Organic dairy products like whole milk, unsweetened yogurt, eggs, and cheese
  • Breads and crackers that are 100% whole-grain
  • Sustainably wild caught seafood
  • Humanely raised meat: chicken, pork, beef, and lamb
  • Dried fruits, nuts, and seeds (nuts and seeds are better raw)
  • Natural sweeteners: honey and maple syrup

A fantastic resource if the idea of real food is new for you, is

I choose to eat the way people did for thousands of years. My goal is that 70-80% of the time I cook/eat a variety of fresh whole foods provided by nature:

  • Vegetables and fruits– preferably seasonal and local. To minimize pesticides in our food, I use the Environmental Working Group: Dirty Dozen as a guide. If I can’t buy organic, I buy the foods on the “Dirty Dozen” list only occasionally and always wash them well, using a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.
  • Beans – Dried beans are one of the most cost-effective, nutrient-rich foods we can enjoy. Once a week I cook a big pot of beans and, once cooled, put them in mason jars and freeze whatever won’t be used that week. Canned organic beans (garbanzo and either white or black bean) are pantry staple. I can always make a quick last minute dinner with canned beans, or a hummus/bean dip when friends drop in for happy hour.
  • Whole grains – quinoa and brown rice are pantry staples. Buying in bulk at the grocery store is usually most cost-effective. I add an alternate another grain for variety, usually buckwheat or bulgur.
  • Sustainably wild caught or responsibly farmed fish
  • Responsibly raised meats: Pastured pork and poultry. Grass-fed beef. It’s more expensive, but we eat meat just a couple times a week.
  • Organic dairy (milk and yogurt)
  • Unrefined fats: butter, coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil (when I can find it) and expeller-pressed canola oil
  • Nuts and seeds rather than cheese, and I buy them raw. Roasted nuts generally are salted, and apt to go rancid.

I believe eating healthfully is all about moderation and variety. I’ve found that the best way to stay the course (eating healthfully 70% of the time) is to be flexible. Birthday parties and special celebrations are meant to be enjoyed. And yes, I think it’s okay to occasionally indulge (guilt-free!) – some of my favorite indulgences: buffalo wings, Haagen Dazs Dulce de Leche ice cream (actually ANY Haagen Dazs ice cream!), croissants, and anything chocolate. The key word being occasionally.

Organic and sustainable real food is more expensive, but the more of us who choose this path, the more accessible such food will become, and the greater the impact will be on the health of our planet, but that’s another story for another day.

New to Real Food?

100 Days of Real Food

100daysofrealfood: Answers To Your Real Food Questions


Budget Tips for Real Food

100daysofrealfood: Real Food Tips, 12 Ways to Keep it Cheap

100 Days of Real Food: How to Afford Real Food on a Budget

Dr. Hyman: Eat Healthy on a Budget

Environmental Working Group: Good Food on a Tight Budget