Not all that long ago, embracing a diet of primarily organic foods was considered a bit out there, a little fringe-y, or just something your aging hippie parents were way into. Organics were expensive and available mostly in high-end specialty or ‘health food’ stores. Fast forward a decade or so and organic foods are a whole different ballgame, thanks to rising consumer demand and supermarkets responding to it by at last incorporating more organics into their grocery mix.
Though the sheer volume of readily available organics has eliminated the access problem, organic’s often higher prices can be still be a hurdle. However, as I often remind my patients, investing in the cleanest, least altered food possible – as much as your budget will allow — is a no-brainer. Eating fresh, whole and organic is the quickest health fix I know, and a valuable first step towards living a disease-free life which is a lot less costly than a lifetime of prescriptions and doctor visits, even after you factor in higher food prices!
When you trade conventionally grown and processed foods for healthy, whole, organic foods, almost immediately your body benefits from the reduction of chemical pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and other toxins – a major win for your cellular, organ and systemic functions. To begin working more organics into your life, pushing out the processed crap and cutting your toxic load without unduly draining the piggy bank, here are a few ways fill your fridge and belly with the good stuff that helps your body thrive.
Good clean food matters – a lot!
Ideally, your daily two or three squares should come from fresh food, in its natural state, as ‘close to the vine’ as possible. Obviously, skip the fast food, processed and packaged foods too, which winds up being pretty much anything outfitted with a nutrition label. The goal is to eat the least altered, least sprayed, cleanest food you can – and buying USDA Certified Organic items is an excellent way to do that.
The next best thing is buying local food from a local farmers’ market. There you’ll find food which, though it’s usually not technically organic, tends to be fresher (having not been trucked thousands of miles) and cleaner (less likely to have been sprayed with industrial toxins) and much better at delivering the micro- and macronutrients your body needs.
Just as good are ‘close-to-organic,’ fresh, clean foods, from small producers, farm stands, co-ops and/or community supported agriculture groups (CSAs). Generally speaking, their production methods tend to be considerably less industrial-scale – think fewer chemical treatments, more environmentally-friendly methods of pest and weed control, healthier soil – as well as thoughtful farming practices. If you shop around, you may find these options to be quite comparable price-wise to conventionally grown supermarket produce, but with a bigger nutritional bang for the buck.
Look for the real seal — and know what it means.
Truly organic foods will be stamped with the USDA Certified Organic seal, which, per the USDA, means that these foods are “grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods.” The USDA also requires annual inspections, plus traceable and trackable documentation on essentials like seed sources, soil conditions, crop health, weed and pest management, water systems, inputs, contamination, etc.
All that extra, regulated TLC is your best bet against keeping toxins out of your system and delivering more nutrients into it, versus conventionally grown. And, if you do see an item with ‘organic’ on the label but no USDA seal, assume it’s probably more conventionally grown than not, and certainly don’t pay a premium for it.
Hmmm, organic or conventional?
Though organic, local and/or CSAs should ideally be your default, when time, money or access is limited, some conventionally grown items are fine, that is as long as you know which ones make the cut. To help you buy the best, cleanest produce possible at a reasonable price, the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce is incredibly useful.
The Shopper’s Guide – which features the EWGs ‘Dirty Dozen / Clean Fifteen’ list – includes a ranking of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, calling out which ones test high for pesticide residues and which ones test low, so you buy (and eat!) with confidence. Are spinach, strawberries and apples your daily faves? The conventionally grown ones top the pesticide residue list, so choose organic for these. Love avocados, pineapples and onions? No need to go organic on these as they pose the least risk, ranking among the lowest on the residue scale.
Another way to remember which organic items to spend money on: if it’s got a tough outer skin or leaves that aren’t usually eaten, then conventional is a decent option. For items where the entire fruit or veg is eaten, as in, skin and all but the seeds, then organic is the way to go.
Mind your meats.
Keep in mind though, it’s not just produce that matters. You want the best, cleanest possible options across the board. When it comes to animal protein, healthy animals make healthy meals so buy the best quality possible. Granted, organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised animals will be considerably more expensive than factory-farmed animals, but you can contain costs by:
- Eating smaller portions of healthy, high-quality meat, poultry or fish – and fill the space on your plate with more fiber-rich veggies.
- Reducing animal protein intake by opting for more meat-free/vegetarian meals each week.
- On meatless days, supplement your protein needs with filling, animal-free sources like kidney beans, chickpeas, quinoa, etc.
- Stews, soups and dishes incorporating shredded and chopped meats are a classic, budget-stretching way to get the most mileage out of smaller quantities of animal proteins.
- Trying to fake the meat experience with meat ‘substitutes’ which are heavily processed faux foods your body will be a lot better off without.
No nearby sources for pasture-raised, grass-fed organic meat and wild-caught fish? Then shop around for the best quality and prices, and order online (the company Vital Choice is an excellent online source).
Some organic foods are junk!
Not surprisingly, there is such a thing as organic junk food. Sure, they may be certified organic, non-GMO and gluten-free, but sodas, cookies, ice cream, cereals, chips are still junk food, just more expensive versions of what you’d find in the conventional snack aisle. My advice? Save your money and snack on small quantities of health-supportive organic berries, raw nuts, veggies and home-made hummus, dark chocolate (at least 80 percent cacao), or DIY home-made kale chips.
Try these smart organic shopping strategies:
- Fermenting veggies is a tasty way to preserve them, minimize waste when you catch a deal at the farmer’s market – and of course, an easy way to add healthy bacteria to your gut.
- If you’ve just got to have that morning smoothie, the frozen produce aisle is a good spot to pick up organic fruits and veggies when your favorites aren’t in season. The nutrient content on organic and conventional frozen produce is comparable to fresh, certainly convenient and often less costly.
- If you have to choose between the two, organic bulk produce is always going to be more economical than boxed, ‘triple washed’ or pre-prepped ready-to-cook versions.
- To save on farm-fresh produce costs, think ‘half-sies,’ and split the cost of a CSA membership with a friend or neighbor.
- Using large quantities of a particular fruit or veg? Try using a blend of both organic and items from the EWG’s Clean Fifteen produce list to cut costs and chemicals.
- Supplement your produce purchases by growing some of your own (even in winter), ideally with organic, non-GMO certified seeds and soil. Among the easiest edibles to grow indoors: basil, lemongrass, radishes, mushrooms, salad greens, dwarf fruits and turmeric.
- Too many fresh veggies? Freeze them ASAP. Though some will need to be blanched first, many veggies don’t – so all you need to do is wash, dry, freeze in airtight container. Less veggie waste and organic veggies always at the ready? Now that’s a good deal.
- Prefer the online shopping experience? Try the membership-only ThriveMarket.com, which specializes in selling organics at discounted prices (with an annual membership).