In recent years there’s been a huge increase in the number of organic products available. I’m as guilty as the next person for grabbing organic over conventional products, but does the label actually mean it’s better for you? When I make my food choices, I like to be informed but also spend wisely.
Produce: Organic, Local, Big Agg…
Many of us believe that organic means fewer chemicals and pesticides. As we learn more about the giant cogs that make up the agricultural industry, it’s becoming clear that this isn’t always the case. There are many chemicals that are approved for use on organic produce and large-scale farms often use them liberally. Other farms that aren’t labeled organic might be pesticide-free, yet because they use a minimal amount of non-organic chemical in very small amounts, they don’t qualify for the organic label.
Farmer’s markets and local growers are other great sources for sustainable and ethically grown produce and sometimes they can be much cheaper than store bought. Better yet, you have access to the people who actually grow the food and they have a local interest in keeping their livelihood. Most likely, they’ll have a vested interest in using as few chemicals as possible with an eye to a sustainable and healthy outcome for their customers. Talk to your local farmers and even if they’re not labeled “organic” find out what chemicals they do use and why.
The best option if you have the time and space is to grow your own food! Start small with a few pots and herbs on your windowsill, or make a little space for a raised garden bed. We’ve been amazed at how much we are able and willing to keep up with as we continually add to our garden. Our kids have taken a huge interest and as a result eat so many fruits and veggies right off the plant. It’s an amazing way to have onstructive and creative conversations about how to fuel our bodies with wholesome and nutritious food.
Keep in mind, most produce can be washed before eating which eliminates a large percentage of many pesticides before they’re consumed. However, there are a number of chemicals that are absorbed by the plants and can not be removed by washing and peeling. If you keep an eye on the Dirty Dozen list, you’ll get a sense of which items are best purchased organic when possible.
Processed Foods: Beyond the Health Claims
Organic does NOT mean healthy! Organic sugar is still added sugar and doesn’t necessarily mean a product is fair game for a healthy diet.
Let’s face it, we’re all trying to raise families and do our best to keep them happy and healthy. Many times that means choosing between a home cooked meal and pizza on the way to volleyball practice because you’ve got piles of laundry, homework to oversee and a work project that needs some finishing touches before tomorrow. We all need shortcuts, sometimes major game-changers and this is where processed and packaged foods save the day.
When deciding which options are best, take a look at the label and stick to things with legible ingredients (real food, imagine that!) and only 5-6 items. It’s also a good sign if sugar (or one of its many variants) are not listed or are near the end of the list. The first few items are the ones that appear in the highest quantity. Some day soon, added sugars will be more obvious on food lables which will make things a bit easier.
Every family has their tipping point, so find what works for you. With our tendencies for eczema, we’ve found that organic wheat products (or gluten free) have a major correlation with how our skin reacts.
The Bottom Line: Don’t be afraid to grab an apple over a stack of cookies…
If you can’t afford or can’t find organic options, don’t let that stop you! Making an effort to eat whole foods is always a better option than grabbing something full of sugar or highly processed. Grab that apple from Starbucks or the non-organic asparagus (because it’s HALF the price) if it will ensure you get those much-needed nutrients into your family!
The food we eat can have far-reaching affects, so it’s important to take it day by day and try to listen to what our bodies are telling us. Feeling bloated after downing three slices of meat lover’s pizza? Maybe add a few greens to that plate. Still peckish after that monster salad that was mostly greens? Maybe some beans or healthy carbs or protein would help balance it out. Feeling sluggish and a bit achy? Make sure you’re drinking enough water!