Saturday, February 2, 2013

Nourishing Bytes: Why Organic Foods Now Take Up More Space Than They Ever Did Before in My Kitchen

Prior to cancer, I knew organic was a better choice over non-organic. For example, I knew organic fruits and veggies don't have all of the pesticides and chemicals that non-organic fruits and veggies have.   But, we were never regular about choosing organic over non-organic.  Sometimes we would, others we would not.  The biggest reason we would not, at times, choose organic was due to the cost.  But, now that I have read what I read about today's foods that are processed, loaded with man-made chemicals, and just full of things that God never intended, I wish we didn't ever have to purchase non-organic, non-preservative free foods. Let me qualify that though:  there are just certain foods that we feel like there is no option in choosing organic over non-organic.  And with some other foods we feel it doesn't make a justifiable difference in choosing organic over non-organic.

So, in today's post I am going to explain the following things:
  • Some of the things I have learned about organic foods vs. non-organic foods.  What does "organic" mean and why choose organic?
  • Which foods I make sure that I choose to eat as organic.
  • How to eat organic foods on a budget
In a separate post, I am going to talk about animal products and why choosing organic is so important there as well.  I am going to focus this post though mainly on fruits, vegetables, and other products.

First, what is the difference between organic and non-organic, or conventional, farming?  It is important to see the difference in order to understand why choosing organic is so important in some instances.  The chart below from the mayo clinic's website is a great illustration of some of the key differences.

Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth.Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.
Spray synthetic insecticides to reduce pests and disease.Spray pesticides from natural sources; use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.
Use synthetic herbicides to manage weeds.Use environmentally-generated plant-killing compounds; rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds.
Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth.Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures — such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing — to help minimize disease.
In Jordan Rubin's book, The Maker' Diet, which I have read and from which I am incorporating a lot of it's philosophies into my new diet, he includes a list of how to get sick.  I know--that list sounds strange, but it is pretty interesting and eye-opening.  #24 on that list of how to get sick is "eat grocery store produce and processed foods treated with pesticides, herbicides, animal growth hormones, and antibiotics; don't forget hybridized, irradiated and genetically altered foods."  He says, "Pesticides and herbicides comprise one of the world's most deadly classes of chemical compounds. If a pesticide or herbicides kills one thing, it will probably kill, mutate, or seriously damage a whole host of other things."  He goes on to say, "Most pesticides are known carcinogens, and some of them pose as counterfeit versions of the female hormone estrogen. These xenoestrogens may promote cancer by stimulating estrogen receptors in the body."   Of course, this last statement triggered me as my cancer is estrogen receptor positive and thus grows with estrogen.

Mayo clinic's website states that there are many factors that influence the decision to choose organic food. Some people choose organic food because they prefer the taste. Yet others opt for organic because of concerns such as:

  • Pesticides. Conventional growers use pesticides to protect their crops from molds, insects and diseases. When farmers spray pesticides, this can leave residue on produce. Some people buy organic food to limit their exposure to these residues. According to the USDA, organic produce carries significantly fewer pesticide residues than does conventional produce. However, residues on most products — both organic and nonorganic — don't exceed government safety thresholds.
  • Food additives. Organic regulations ban or severely restrict the use of food additives, processing aids (substances used during processing, but not added directly to food) and fortifying agents commonly used in nonorganic foods, including preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colorings and flavorings, and monosodium glutamate.
  • Environment. Some people buy organic food for environmental reasons. Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil quality.
We have been choosing organic foods for the past several months and can honestly say they truly do taste better.  It is amazing just how much better organic fruits, vegetables, meats and eggs taste over conventionally farmed foods.   Also, we have read so many negative things about pesticides and preservatives that we want to seriously limit what we ingest.  Drew and I were recently having a conversation about what foods we grew up eating.  As we were growing up, we didn't even remember such a thing as "organic" vs. "non-organic."  That is because the concern about pesticides and foods was just beginning as we were children.

Dr. Crystal Smith-Spangler of Stanford University, the lead author of a recent study on organic foods and pesticides indicated previous studies have shown lower levels of pesticides in the urine of children who eat organic foods compared with children who eat conventional foods.  Environmental Working Group, says to avoid pesticides and warns that "young children and pregnant women are especially at risk."  Also, the American Academy of Pediatrics similarly says to "minimize using foods in which chemical pesticides or herbicides were used by farmers."  Why are all of these folks saying to limit exposure to these chemicals?  Can you believe that many researchers indicate that increased levels of pesticides can lead to lower IQ's and behavioral problems (such as ADHD) in children?  Three leading institutes of environmental health science recently conducted research which found that the higher the mother’s exposure to pesticides, the lower the child’s IQ score once the child reached school age. In the Berkeley study, for example, children with the highest levels of prenatal pesticide exposure tested 7 points lower than children exposed to the least. There was no threshold or base limit of exposure that did not produce an effect. Even by age three, the children showed neurodevelopmental problems. Prenatal exposure was measured by testing the mother’s blood and urine, or by testing the newborn’s umbilical cord blood.  These reports further substantiate a report from Harvard University last year, indicating that organophosphate exposure, at levels common among US children, may contribute to ADHD prevalence.

After numerous studies, pesticides have also been linked to cancer, Alzheimer's Disease, ADHD, and even birth defects. Pesticides also have the potential to harm the nervous system, the reproductive system, and the endocrine system. Although one piece of fruit with pesticides won't kill you, if they build up in your body, they can be potentially detrimental to your health and should be avoided as much as possible.  I still go back to Jordan Rubin's point--if the pesticide or chemical is sprayed on the crop with a purpose of killing the pests, what will the residue remaining on the crop when I eat it do to my body?  To sum it up--I want to consume as little pesticides and man-made chemicals as possible! 

How do you know if a product is truly organic? According to the mayo clinic's site, if a food bears a USDA Organic label, it means it's produced and processed according to the USDA standards. The seal is voluntary, but many organic producers use it.   Products certified 95 percent or more organic display this USDA seal.  Products that are completely organic — such as fruits, vegetables, eggs or other single-ingredient foods — are labeled 100 percent organic and can carry the USDA seal.

Foods that have more than one ingredient, such as breakfast cereal, can use the USDA organic seal plus the following wording, depending on the number of organic ingredients:

100 percent organic. To use this phrase, products must be either completely organic or made of all organic ingredients.
Organic. Products must be at least 95 percent organic to use this term.

Products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients may say "made with organic ingredients" on the label, but may not use the seal. Foods containing less than 70 percent organic ingredients can't use the seal or the word "organic" on their product labels. They can include the organic items in their ingredient list, however.

Another term you may see often on products is "natural".  "Natural" and "Organic" are not interchangeable though.  Only foods that are grown and processed according to USDA organic standards can be labeled organic.  So, manufacturers can label just about anything “natural,” while “organic” comes with a guarantee that the product has been certified by the USDA.

I think the biggest deterrent for most people to choosing organic is the price.  It is more costly than conventionally farmed foods.  So, there are certain items that we always purchase as organic, and others that we don't feel badly about purchasing as conventionally farmed.  This handy-dandy list below is extremely helpful in the organic vs. non-organic decision making process:

Preferably Organic
—Most Commonly Contaminated*

If Budget Allows, Buy Organic

It’s Your Call
—Least Commonly Contaminated

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines
  • Grapes
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Blueberries
  • Lettuce
  • Kale/Collard Greens
  • Green Beans
  • Summer Squash
  • Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Raspberries
  • Grapes - Domestic
  • Plums
  • Oranges
  • Cauliflower
  • Tangerines
  • Bananas
  • Winter Squash
  • Cranberries
  • Onions
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapples
  • Avocado
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet Peas
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Watermelon
  • Sweet Potato
  • Grapefruit
  • Mushrooms
*Listed in order of pesticide loadSource: Environmental Working Group. Go to for updates. Updated June 2011.
The list above is pretty much what we use in choosing which fruits or vegetables to purchase as organic. (Click here to view a great video from Dr. Oz on going organic on a budget.)  We always try to purchase the items from the far left list as organic.  Also, all berries that we purchase are organic.  The items on the middle list and the right list we sometimes purchase as organic and others times do not.  

In conclusion, I love the following quote by Alan Greene, MD, FAAP, pediatrician and author:    "Every bite of food is an investment in our bodies – or a debt of some kind that we will have to pay back. Good food – organic food – is a delicious investment."  This has pretty much been my philosophy for the past few months. I try to ask myself as I put something in my mouth whether the item is an investment or debt to my body.  Several family members and friends have generously given us whole foods market gift cards over the past couple of months, which have seriously made it an easy decision to shop organically.  I love whole foods and we can definitely even taste a difference in the quality of food we purchase there.  So, these folks have truly blessed us!  We aren't eating out much at all either, so we are spending less money on food than before even though we are choosing organic over conventional foods.  


  1. I also try to buy organic but it isn't always easy to find! Thankfully Trader Joe's has a good selection and rumor has it that a Whole Foods will be opening up close by home this year!

    However, I still struggle with the source of the organic food. I sometimes wonder if organic foods (mostly frozen varieties) from a foreign country are truly safe. I am always amazed that many organic foods come from China or Turkey! In those cases I often opt for the domestic, un-organic version as I feel that at least pesticide standards are better enforced in the US. I don't know if that is being discriminatory or not. I also think about the energy costs of shipping foods around the world and whether an organic product shipped from China has more or less of an impact on the environment than a domestic, non-organic product?

    Of course the best choice is the local farm down the street but unfortunately they don't have too many fresh vegetables in the the winter. I guess I should be freezing them when they are available but I don't have that much freezer space!

    Food for thought!

    1. We are so thankful for the many great farmer's markets in our area as well. Of course, the local farm is the best source of produce and meats. We think they taste the best also. I will never forget the first time we bought cage-free organic eggs from our local farmer's market. I could not believe just how delicious they were and that there could possibly be that much difference between those and conventional eggs.

      We don't buy everything organic, but do feel it is very important for certain items.