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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chemically Speaking Part 2: Eat Organic or Not?

By now you are probably thinking that I am a crazy chemical-free woman who will launch into a tirade about pesticides--how they build up in our bodies, are bad for the environment, and that we do not truly know what levels are really and truly "safe" for adults nevermind the smaller bodies of children, infants, and fetuses and that while you are pregnant and nursing you should never let an unorganic morsel of food ever cross your lips. Well, while much of that is true, I am not here to lecture anyone and I am not going to pretend to eat 100% organically all the time. Because that would be a big lie.

Honestly, eating organic 100% of the time would be pretty close to impossible and would probably make your life close to miserable, and would be pretty darn expensive. There are plenty of places that it wouldn't be possible--either the food isn't available, or you are out to eat, or you are eating in someone else's home, or you just can't afford for everything to be organic. So what is a pregnant girl (and any mom for that matter) to do?

The answer is that it is up to you, and my blog today is more about giving information on how to make more informed choices about it. I basically use the following guidelines when purchasing food organically/locally, etc. I suggest you try some of them (one at a time) and see what works for you.

Buy local. The first thing is that whenever possible, I buy directly from the farm. It is fresher, the produce/animals are treated better, and the food has used a lot less gas to get to me (which means a smaller environmental impact). Find a farm you know, like, and trust. Ask about how they farm (with or without chemicals). Many farms offer CSA shares (community supported agriculture) where you buy a share in the farm for a particular season and then go pick up your goods each month/week. The great thing about going to the farm is that I spend less time and money at the grocery store (where I am sure to pick up junk I do not need). So while it may appear that the tomatoes are a little more expensive, I save money in the long-run. If you are interested in finding local farms and farmers markets please visit for more local information.

There are times when I do need to go to the grocery store or supplement things I cannot get at the farm and/or farmers market. AND, I know that not everyone has access to local food sources. In those cases, I use the following basic guidelines:

  1. Buy organic when you are higher on the food-chain as much as possible. This is the case with non-fish animal products such as beef, pork, chicken, dairy, and eggs. The higher up on the food chain you go, the more likely they have consumed more toxins in their food (similar to larger fish having higher concentrations of mercury), and therefore the more toxins are passed on to you. Since toxins are stored in body fat-- milk and butter are the #1 things I would look for organically, followed by higher fat meat and eggs.
  2. Choose which vegetables/fruits you purchase organically based on how contaminated they are as well as how often you eat them. If you eat something everyday, you should go organic. The 12 Most Contaminated fruits/vegetables should be bought organically whenever possible. They include: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce, and potatoes. The top 12 least contaminated can be traded off in order to save your pocketbook a bit. You can buy them organically, but are less important than the others. These include: onions, avocado, frozen sweet corn, pineapples, mango, asparagus, frozen sweet peas, kiwis, bananas, cabbage, broccoli, and papaya.
  3. Try to buy as local as possible--the closer you are, the less mileage it took to ship the food to you so the fresher it will be. I typically try to keep it to Massachusetts, if not available, I choose the east coast option when available, then within the country. The exceptions I make to out of the country is whether we can grow it here or not (coconuts, pineapple, bananas) and I buy these items less frequently. I typically skip the asparagus from Peru until I can buy it in-season from the farmers market or someone more local.

So, I hope you are not too overwhelmed by all this information. Typically, it is better to follow an 80-20 rule, where in your home you do the best you can, and when you are out you pick the best from what is available. It is definitely a summary of how I make my decisions at the grocery store for fresh food because there are lots of things that play into the decisions. There are tons of books and resources on the subject if you are interested in more information. Here is a list of my personal favorites:

  • Food, Inc a movie
  • Real Food, by Nina Planck
  • Real Food for Mother and Baby, by Nina Planck
  • In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan
  • What to Eat, by Marion Nestle
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver
I will talk about processed food in a later blog, but hopefully the question of whether or not to buy organic has been peaked in your mind for all your fresh food options... I tried to make it straight forward and brief, and help you keep as many chemicals off your plate as you can. At the end of the day, do the best you can. That is all anyone can ask of you!

In health and wellness,

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