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Five Easy Ways to Go Organic

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For those who are not yet ready or able to switch to an organic diet, these strategic choices can be made to enjoy some of the major benefits of organic foods.

By Dr. Alan Greene, Organic Prescription Posted Jan 28, 2009

Go Organic Switching to an organic diet is difficult for many families because of the higher costs of organic foods, fewer choices in many supermarkets, and a lack of information about the relative benefits of different organic food choices. As detailed in our article, Pesticides and Produce, commercially-farmed fruits and vegetables vary in their levels of pesticide residue, with some food choices clearly more advantageous to buy organic than others.

Pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene, in his new book “Raising Baby Green”, has simplified the decision making for shoppers by identifying “strategic” organic foods that he says can make the biggest impact on the family diet. The following list shows the top five foods which shoppers can choose to go ‘organic’ for maximum benefits.

1. Milk

“When you choose a glass of conventional milk, you are buying into a whole chemical system of agriculture,’’ says Dr. Greene. People who switch to organic milk typically do so because they are concerned about the antibiotics, artificial hormones and pesticides used in the commercial dairy industry. One recent United States Department of Agriculture survey found certain pesticides in about 30 percent of conventional milk samples and low levels in only one organic sample. The level is relatively low compared to some other foods, but many kids consume milk in large quantities.

Another important, yet hidden, benefit of choosing organic milk is the influence your choice has on the dairy farm industry. For example, the popularity of organic milk has already resulted in many conventional farmers choosing to raise cows without the use of artificial growth hormones. Increased demand for organic milk acts as a lever on the entire dairy industry, which furthers the environmental and nutritional benefits.

2. Potatoes

Among children, potatoes are the most commonly eaten vegetable, usually in the form of french fries. Among adults in the US, potatoes account for approximately 30 percent of our overall vegetable consumption. Choosing organic potatoes has the potential to have a big impact because commercially-farmed potatoes are some of the most pesticide-contaminated vegetables. A 2006 U.S.D.A. test found 81 percent of potatoes tested still contained pesticides after being washed and peeled, and the potato has one of the the highest pesticide contents of 43 fruits and vegetables tested, according to the Environmental Working Group.

According to the USDA, over a million acres of farmland in the US are used for farming potatoes, yet only 6581 acres are farmed organically. As with organic milk choices, above, the best way to exert influence over pesticide-laden farm practices is to choose organically grown alternatives.

3. Peanut butter

More acres are devoted to growing peanuts than any other fruits, vegetable or nut, according to the USDA. More than 99 percent of peanut farms use conventional farming practices, including the use of fungicide to treat mold, a common problem in peanut crops. Because peanut butter is especially popular among children, and we are seeing an increase in peanut allergies, it makes sense to choose organic brands which are now commonly available in supermarkets.

How can you tell which peanut butter brands are organic? Look at the ingredient list on the label. Organic brands will have a short list, such as ‘peanuts and salt’, as opposed to conventional brands which may include corn syrup, sugar, partially hydrogenated and/or fully hydrogenated fats, mono- and diglycerides, the pesticides ferric orthophosphate18 and copper sulfate19, and other ingredients.

4. Ketchup

In many families, tomato products, especially ketchup, make up a high percentage of the household vegetable intake. About 75 percent of tomato consumption is in the form of processed tomatoes, including juice, tomato paste and ketchup.

Tomatoes are the #1 source for an important nutrient called lycopene, a potent antioxidant known to help prevent and heal cell damage. Foods rich in lycopene can lower cancer and heart disease risk. Recent research has shown organic ketchup has about double the antioxidants of conventional ketchup. When choosing an organic ketchup brand, in general, a deeper red natural color goes along with higher lycopene levels.

5. Apples

Apples are the second most commonly eaten fresh fruit, after bananas, and they are also used in the second most popular juice, after oranges, according to Dr. Greene. But apples are also one of the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables.

In recent years, scientists have discovered phytonutrients in apples which are strong antioxidants. Organic apples have been found to have higher levels of these phytonutrients then non-organic apples. Today, more than 3% of US apple farms are organic, making organic apples readily available to most consumers.

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  • organicmom

    Grapes and berries should always be organic too–the thin skinned produce is especially vulnerable. Also, use organic cotton. Cotton crops use massive amounts of pesticides.

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