Supermarket shelves overflow with organic food selections amid growing fears about potentially harmful pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, and preservatives in food. If you have trouble sorting it out, you are not alone.
Kathy Shilko, RD,LDN,CDOE,CDE, clinical nutrition counselor at the Care New England Wellness Center (link) says she is often asked if organic food is safer and/or more nutritious.
"There is conflicting research about it," she says. "I don't think there really is a clear-cut answer. Even the subject of nutrition, as a whole, keeps on changing."
Her most important piece of advice? Eat your fruits and vegetables. And, when possible, buy organic.
"As far as avoiding fertilizers and insecticides, (organic food) would definitely be a safer product. It may also be helpful for people with certain allergies," Shilko says.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires foods meet certain government standards to be labeled organic. If a food item says "all-natural," it does not mean it's organic. "I think a lot of people interchange the words 'natural' and 'organic' and they're definitely not the same thing," she says.
Shilko offers these guidelines:
- If you are on a budget but want to buy organic – which can be more pricey because it costs more to produce than conventionally grown produce – go for foods often listed as having higher amounts of pesticides when conventionally grown, such as nectarines, peaches, apples, grapes, strawberries, and sweet peppers.
- Buy "local," which is anything grown within about a 400 miles radius, it's considered. "Obviously, you'll see more nutrients in something that's just been picked and is fresh from the farm, versus something that's been sitting around for a couple of weeks. Fresh food tends to be more nutrient-rich."
- Visit your local farmer's market. "You not only find fresher foods, but it helps your local farmers and the local economy. Find area farmer's markets at farmfresh.org.
- Freeze items when they are plentiful and less expensive. "There are a lot of fruits and vegetables that freeze well, like blueberries. If you go to the farmer's market and buy foods that are in season, they will tend to be cheaper. You can stock up when they are in season and freeze them for later."
·Don't be fooled by appearances. "I have a lot of people tell me organic or locally grown food doesn't look as good – the fruits or vegetables don't have that perfect shape or aren't shiny. That's how fruits and vegetables are supposed to look – everything doesn't have to be super size."
The important thing is to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet.
"Try to avoid packaged or prepackaged foods," Shilko says. "It's not like you have to change your entire way of eating. If you just take a few things – visit the farmer's market, start your own small garden, or freeze or pickle foods while they are in season – you will be taking one step in the right direction."