Why eating organic is important, how to prioritize what foods to buy organic, and organic shopping 101
Organic Eating 101: Why It’s important
It’s important to eat organic. Every functional nutritionist, toxin scientist, and holistic medical professional that I spoke with for both of my Green Mama books said that children and parents-to-be, especially moms while pregnant, must please prioritize eating organic. The evidence is all too clear: pesticides in foods have been linked by many, many credible scientific studies and extensive research to obesity, autism, cancer, birth defects and neurological problems in children. You can start your research here.
If you are middle income, you may not feel you can afford to Organic-ize Your Diet, but based on the known and suspected health outcomes on your children, you can’t afford not to. If you live below or near the poverty line, as my single mother with three kids did for most of my childhood, then just getting enough to eat at all is hard. In this case, the advice below will help you prioritize your limited food dollars.
It’s a huge irony of our time that we foist the financial burden of eating healthy food onto individuals even as our society is increasingly burdened by care of a growing number of chronically ill and neurologically challenged children and adults. While some of the worst pesticides and food toxins are being banned, replaced, or labelled in Europe, North American governments continue to profess they are harmless because they don’t want to overburden consumers with too much information. Better for them to choose an apple with its 46 different pesticides than to chose a bag of potato chips with all the pesticides and the Transfat, MSG, and food colouring. Europe is moving toward the precautionary principle: that no corporation should be allowed to sell to the public something that hasn’t been tested for human health and safety and proven harmless.
Pesticides Are Dangerous Chemicals
Pesticides routinely used on our food are now considered to be some of the most dangerous chemicals in the world. These pollutants end up in our bodies, even in our newborn babies. In Canada, the average newborn has about 200 industrial chemicals in their umbilical cord blood. The good news is that many of the older pesticides that were banned, like DDT, are finally starting to decrease in the body burden studies of younger children. The bad news is that we’ve replaced them with other chemicals, including organophosphate (OP) pesticides, that make up 70 percent of current insecticide use. OPs are found in high levels in just about every person in North America, including newborns.
While Canada and the United States set “safe” limits on these pesticides these limits are based on what industry is able to achieve, not on science. At supposedly safe limits of OP pesticides, kids with the highest typical daily exposure were twice as likely to have ADHD as their lower-pesticide consuming peers. Pregnant women exposed to OP pesticides because they lived near fields that used OP pesticides had children with lower IQs. The researchers found that children lost two IQ points for every 522 pounds of pesticide applied nearby. In addition to lower IQs, pesticide exposures in children and pregnant women have been linked to ADHD, birth defects, hormone system disruptions, and cancer.
The most used herbicide in the world and, perhaps, best known of today’s pesticides is glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp. Monsanto genetically modifies crops such as soy and wheat to be “RoundUp Ready”: able to survive larger doses of glysophate. When consumed during pregnancy, glysophate can disrupt the hormone system. It has been linked to lower IQ, adult obesity, cancer, and an increased risk of autism in children when consumed during pregnancy. Nevertheless, studies show the highest concentrations are in children especially those from the West and Midwest where a lot of the most contaminated crops are grown.
The good news is that we can limit our own and our children’s exposure to many of the worst toxins by eating organic. Studies have shown that children who eat primarily organic produce have fewer pesticides in their bodies than their conventional eating counterparts. Eating organic is an effective strategy for lowering exposure to antibiotics and artificial growth hormones as well. Organic foods can be more nutritious per bite, and especially high in antioxidants.
Greening Your Food Budget: How to Make $ for Organics
Most of what us North Americans do spend on food, we spend on eating (and drinking) outside the home. So, if money matters in your food budget, the first place to steal it is from the relatively expensive and nutritionally poor habit of eating out. Remember that North Americans spend a very small proportion of their income on food when compared to other countries.
Organic foods are a multi-billion dollar industry that is growing fast. The majority of Canadians—that’s 20 million people—say they regularly buy organics. Eighty six percent of Canadians—particularly in the 18 to 36 year old demographic— say they expect to continue or increase their organic spending. The most important foods to buy organic are dairy and meat/poultry, but this accounts for less than a quarter of Canadian organic purchases.
The keys to Organic-izing your diet is to know how to best spend your food dollars by understanding:
- when it is essential to buy organic,
- when organic isn’t enough,
- and where you can save your money and go for conventional instead.
Your most important tool in Organic-izing your diet is to learn to read labels. Read the Label Reading 101 blog to learn how and discover which labels–organic, natural, nonGMO, etc–are what they say they are and worth paying for.
Organic Shopping 101: Where to Spend Your Food Dollars
Go beyond organic for all animal products
The most important foods to eat beyond organic (organic AND pasture-raised) are animal products. This includes meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs. Buying organic animal products will help you avoid cloned animal products, byproducts of irradiation, exposure to GMO feed, antibiotics (highest in chickens and farmed fish) and most pesticide residue. Make sure you go beyond organic to find animals fed their natural diets and given access to sunlight and pasture, and you will get more nutrients as well.
Remember, the Canadian cows with their poor-quality butter? The solution is to find grass-fed and organic butter. Similarly, chickens raised on pastures with real sunlight have eggs with more Vitamin A and beta carotene, omege-3 fatty acids, Vitamin E , and Vitamin D than eggs raised from chickens in indoor cages. Learn which egg labels are meaningful in Label Reading 101. Similarly, organic isn’t enough when buying fish either. Learn more about finding Healthy and Safe Seafood
Keep in mind that natural isn’t the same as organic. Natural isn’t a meaningful, third-party certified label. It can mean just about anything. This can be especially tricky for processed meat products, such as hotdogs, salami, lunch meats, and bacon, all of which can contain high levels of nitrates and still be labelled “all natural.” I enjoy the taste and convenience of processed meat products, but their consumption has been linked to brain tumours and leukaemia in children, even when eaten by the mother during pregnancy and the father before conception. Buy things like lunch meats and hot dogs organic and frozen without preservatives: especially no added nitrates. Better yet, make your own by cutting thin slices of home roasted chicken breast or beef and freezing it.
Buy organic oils
All fats can concentrate pesticides. Cooking oils—even those from vegetables—can concentrate pesticides. Similarly, you want oils to be minimally refined to get the most from their nutrients, such as Certified Organic Virgin Olive Oil. Learn more about the important of eating fats in your diet.
Buy organic grains
This includes breads, pastas and other grain products. Grains are a relatively pesticide intensive crop. When packaged into a food, you can’t rinse them to remove the chemical residues. In the UK, grocery store food had pesticide residues in 75 percent of the bread products, 90 percent of cereal bars, and 38 percent of the noodles. The most common pollutants were OP pesticides and Glyphosate.
Rice has its own problems. Even organic rice can have very high levels of arsenic from contaminated groundwater in many rice growing areas. Women and children are advised to limit their rice consumption to once a week and to properly rinse and soak their rice to help minimize exposure. I love rice and eat it regularly, I minimize exposure by cutting out all forms of processed rice such as rice crackers and breads, and saving my exposure for eating rice dishes. I also buy organic rice from more mountainous areas—the groundwater exposure largely comes from fields contaminated by growing cotton—and I often mix my brown rice with the less contaminated white rice. Rinsing and soaking rice before use can help. So can cooking it with excess water and then refreshing it after it first boils.
Buy organic baby food (or anything else that is concentrated)
If you eat a lot of something, whatever that is, make sure its organic. And if you are eating a lot of something concentrated like ketchup, make sure its organic. This is because things like baby food or ketchup are concentrated foods and the pesticides on them will be concentrated as well. Remember, too, that a baby eats more per pound and drinks more by volume than an adult. Also, his developing systems is far more vulnerable to pesticides.
Know the most important fruits and veggies to buy organic
The Environmental Working Group refers to the most contaminated fruits and veggies as “The Dirty Dozen” and looks at pesticide residue on commonly eaten fruits and vegetables as commonly eaten (that means after washed or peeled). Conventional apples can contain the residue of 42 different pesticides and conventional celery 64, including known and suspected carcinogens, neurotoxins, and hormone disruptors. Yikes. (If you want to check out a particular food, you can scare yourself silly at the website: whatsonmyfood.org.)
To avoid the most pesticides on your fruits and veggies here are the ones to always buy organic:
- Peaches/nectarines/apples/pears/plums (and other orchard fruits)
- Berries, including strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and red raspberries
- Sweet bell peppers and hotpeppers
- Leafy greens, including spinach, kale, collard greens, and lettuce
- Grapes (especially those which are imported)
- Summer squash, zucchini
- Hawaiian pineapples
Less contaminated fruits and vegetables include:
- frozen sweet peas,
- domestic cantaloupe,
- sweet potatoes.
Avoid foods with food additives
Food additives aren’t food, but unfortunately they are allowed on many of our foods and are considered safe by most health authorities. Even worse, the worst food additives have been linked to cancer, learning disabilities, and numerous other health problems. When you shop organic whole fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy, you can naturally avoid the worst of the food additives. When buying pre-packaged foods or non-organic foods, you will need to learn how to avoid food additives. Read this article on the 7 Dangerous Food Additives to Always Avoid.