Summer is in full swing, which means that fruits and vegetables like peaches, strawberries, asparagus and zucchini are ripe for the picking. When you go to the market, though, you’ll often be faced with a choice: organic or nonorganic. Will you be armed with enough information to make an educated decision? Read on to get the knowledge you need.
Limited research suggests that the pesticides and growth hormones used in conventional (nonorganic) food may be linked to an increased risk of cancer and hormonal imbalances. On the other hand, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency say that conventional farming practices are safe. So, in large part, the jury still seems to be out on this issue. “More studies with larger numbers of people need to be done,” says Dr. Keecha Harris, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). Katherine Tallmadge, an ADA spokesperson, adds, “There is no evidence as far as I know that shows organic food is healthier than nonorganic. But who knows? Nutrition is a constantly evolving science.” Tallmadge also points out that she would never discourage people form eating conventionally grown produce. “We have decades of studies showing that people who incorporate regular fruits and vegetables into their diets have lower cancer rates, heart disease risk, body weight and blood pressure,” she says. “Still, we would prefer our food be natural. Who wouldn’t?”
Natural food chef Bethenny Frankel, who has cooked for organic foodie Alicia Silverstone, puts it this way: “Eating organic food is like putting premium fuel in your body. You wouldn’t put low-end gas in a great car, would you?” For many people it comes down to cost. Organic food is often pricier than nonorganic, so consumers may have to make a choice based on their budgets. “I don’t feel compelled to choose organic every time, but I choose it when I can and when it’s affordable,” says Tallmadge.
The bottom line? “If you can choose organic, that’s great,” says Tallmadge.
A Celeb Family Overhauls Their Diet
Bridgette Wilson-Sampras — actress, wife and mother — has always made it a priority to be healthy. But it wasn’t until she and her husband, tennis great Pete Sampras, had their sons, Christian, 3, and Ryan, almost 1, that she started making an effort to bring organic food into their lives. “Before I had kids, I would look at food labels, but I would only look at how many carbs and how much fat the food had,” Bridgette tells OK!. “Then when I had my kids and I heard more about the pesticides and hormones in nonorganic food, I thought, ‘Wow!’ and it made me want to avoid putting those things in my kids’ tiny, little bodies,” says Bridgette. “In so doing, it transferred over to myself and my husband, so now the whole family eats organic.”
To learn more about organic food, Bridgette worked with registered dietician Ellie Krieger, an organic coach with Horizon Organic (horizonorganic.com). “Ellie helped me transform my entire kitchen. She suggested I start with the staples — the things we eat most — so that I didn’t get overwhelmed,” says Bridgette. “But I found organic food to be so available in grocery stores that it’s been easy to stick to organic with everything. And my kids don’t know the difference. If anything, the food is more flavorful.”
Bridgette says her reasons for going organic extend beyond the health of her family; she’s also concerned about the effects that conventional farming practices have on the environment and animals. “As I became more informed, I became more adamant about choosing organic for our bodies, for the environment and for the animals. There are so many benefits that I though, ‘If I have the opportunity, why wouldn’t I switch?”
What Exactly Are Organic Foods?
According to the USDA, organic fruits and vegetables are produced without using pesticides or fertilizer containing synthetic ingredients; organic meat, poultry and dairy products come from animals that are given no growth hormones or antibiotics. Further, organic farmers emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water in order to improve the environment. So, organic food means no artificial additives in your body and a healthier earth.
To find organic food, look for the “USDA Organic” seal. This indicates that the food meets the government’s organic standards. Or, says Dr. Harris, shop at your local farmer’s market. “Often small-scale farmers at these markets meet organic standards or even exceed them, but they don’t have the money to go through the process of getting organic certification from the government,” she says. Also, buying locally means you get in-season fresh food and you cut down on the fuel it would’ve taken to ship the produce from a farmer across the country. “This is an additional favor to the earth,” says Dr. Harris.