When you head to the grocery store, shopping for products like eggs, meat, fish, milk, and produce can be very tricky. Signs are posted everywhere labeling food as natural, organic, and a number of other things—but what’s the difference, really? Learning what specific names mean can help you decide if you should shell out extra money on a product or if it is simply a marketing ploy.
Natural is a turn associated with a number of fruit and vegetable product. Typically, this is simple a marketing ploy to convince you to buy the product. After all, all fruits and vegetables are natural, right? Unless it’s a new kind of food that has been developed and processed, the product is natural. What you really probably want is organic. Organic foods are grown without chemical pesticides and fertilizers. There are two main benefits to organic foods.
First, you are helping the environment because those chemicals are not being introduced into nature. Secondly, you are avoiding ingesting chemicals and are therefore eating more healthy foods. However, organic products are usually more expensive. If you’re on a budget, skip over organic fruits and vegetables that you can peel, like oranges and bananas. After all, once you’ve discarded the peel, you’ve also discarded the chemicals. Instead, opt for organic items like apples, where you eat the peel. No matter what you buy, however, make sure that you rinse off the food when you get home.
Another tricky label you will see is “no hormones.” This is usually in regards to milk or meat products and is false, since all animals naturally produce hormones. Hormones are what helps an animal (even a human) regulate body organs and function. All meat products have hormones. What the labels really mean is that no hormones were unnaturally given to the animal, which is sometimes done to increase milk production. Regardless of hormones, however, the milk and meat is safe for a person and not a violation of an animal’s rights.
Lastly, a label on eggs and meat can indicate if the animal was caged or penned. This does not make a difference in the quality or nutritional value of the meat, but is simply a matter of animal rights. These products may be a bit more expensive, but if you want to make human decisions, that is the way to go. Reading the label and making healthy choices can sometimes be difficult, but learning how to do so can help you make the best choices for you diet.
Pesticides, Can we avoid them?
We all ingest lots of chemicals, one way or another. We breathe them, we drink them, and we eat them. The most troublesome are pesticides in produce. It makes me uncomfortable to think that while we are eating fruits and vegetables in reality we are also ingesting poisons that can accumulate in our bodies and make us very sick. This is food that it's supposed to be healthy and good for us!
Even if the most toxic chemicals have already been banned for use in agriculture, pesticides in general are poisons designed to kill insects, weed, small rodents and other pests. The long time effects of these poisons on people are not completely known. Even the minimal risk with these pollutants is too much, when we think we may expose children. We should try to do every effort to minimize our intake of these adverse chemicals.
Education is the key. Knowing which produce contain more pollutants can help us make the right choices, avoiding the most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least polluted, or buy organic instead. In simulation of consumers eating habits has been demonstrated that changing a little bit the eating practices can lower considerably the ingestion of pesticides.
The results of an investigation on pesticides in produce by the USDA Pesticide Data Program (*), show that fruits topped the list of the consistently most contaminated produce, with eight of the 12 most polluted foods. The dirty dozen are: Apples, Bell Peppers, Celery, Cherries, Imported Grapes, Nectarines, Peaches, Pears, Potatoes, Red Raspberries, Spinach, and Strawberries.
You don't like broccoli? Too bad because they are among those least contaminated. In fact the 12 least polluted produce are: Asparagus, Avocados, Bananas, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Sweet Corn, Kiwi, Mangos, Onions, Papaya, Pineapples, and Sweet Peas.
Can washing of produce help get rid of pesticides? Not really. The fruits and vegetables tested by the USDA are "prepared emulating the practices of the average consumer" before testing for pesticides. That is: "apples are washed with stems and cores removed; asparagus and spinach have inedible portions removed and are washed; cantaloupes are cut in half and seed and rinds are removed; and tomatoes are washed and stems removed".
Washing before consuming is highly recommended because helps decrease the pesticide residues present on the surface of the vegetables, but the majorities of pollutants are absorbed into the plant and can't be just washed away. Some pesticides are specifically created to stick to the surface of the crops and they don't come out by washing. Peeling can help eliminating some of the chemicals but not all, and a lot of important substances will be discarded with the skin.
So, on one hand we have to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables for a healthy diet, and on the other hand we have to reduce as much a possible the intake of pesticides. What to do if you are unconvinced by the claims of the chemical companies that certain levels of pesticides are not dangerous?
We have very few options to defend ourselves:
(1) Wash all vegetables and fruit very well;
(2) Change eating habits in order to consume more of the produce with low pollutants; (3) Consume a diet as varied as possible;
(4) Buy organic foods.