Healthy Food: When to Go Organic - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

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Published on December 11, 2013

Healthy Food: When to Go Organic

Organic food isn’t just for hippies these days. The global craze to eat natural, chemical-free food has led to a major boom in the organic industry over the last couple of decades—and it shows. You can find just about any product that’s grown naturally or that’s made with all-natural ingredients. Heck, even grocery stores have devoted entire aisles to organic products. But some of you may still be wondering, ‘What’s all the hoopla about anyway?’

When growing food the “conventional” way, farmers typically use chemicals instead of natural fertilizers to nourish the soil. They also might use synthetic herbicides to manage weeds. Food that uses additives, preservatives, and even food coloring, for example, also fall under the conventional food category as well.

But as an increasing number of studies reveal that many of these chemicals can negatively affect our health, more and more people are turning to organic products, which means that the food is grown without the use of chemicals and hormones. To deter insects and prevent weeds, farmers use compounds from the environment instead of harmful pesticides. The USDA’s organic regulations also ban the use of chemical additives typically found in conventional food, such as fortifying agents and artificial sweeteners.

However, some conventionally grown foods are safe to consume. So to better help you identify which items you should buy organic, here’s a quick guide:

Foods to buy organic:

  • Potatoes: Conventionally grown potatoes have some of the highest pesticide contents among all types of fruits and vegetables. In 2006, the USDA found that 81 percent of potatoes tested contained pesticides, even after being washed and peeled.
  • Beef: Cows that are raised conventionally are usually fed growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and speed up their growth. As a result, they end up increasing the cow’s hormones to unnaturally high levels, which is believed to also affect processes of the human body after it’s consumed. The chemicals are so dangerous, the European Union has already banned all hormones in beef products. On the flip side, organic farmers try to ensure the animal has as much of a natural lifestyle as possible, including a balanced organic diet, access to the outdoors, and clean housing.
  • Milk: Just as the cow’s meat can be harmful to humans, so too can its milk. The growth hormone, rBGH, is given to conventionally grown cows to increase the amount of milk they produce, which has been found to negatively affect the health of the cows and potentially humans as well.
  • Apples: The peel on an apple is packed with tons of nutrients, making it one of the most important parts of the apple. However, if they’re not organically grown, they’re typically sprayed with tons of pesticides that adhere to the peel.
  • Strawberries: The reason strawberries are so red at the grocery store is because they’re enhanced with an additive that’s used to prevent disease in fruits and vegetables. Organic strawberries, on the other hand are much duller in color. You also should watch out for strawberries imported from other countries, since restrictions on pesticide use may be more lax.
  • Kale and Spinach: Here’s another vegetable that’s packed with plenty of nutrients and is low in calories, but is ruined by chemicals. Did you know that these greens are often sprayed with over 20 different types of pesticides? One study conducted by the USDA actually found 58 pesticide residues in spinach. 58!
  • Salmon: Whenever you can, purchase wild salmon instead of the farm-raised fish, which are known to have high amounts of contaminants such as PCBs. However, since the health benefits outweigh the risks, doctors say it’s best to choose any type of salmon than none at all.

Foods you don’t have to worry about, since they have low levels of chemicals.

  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Sweet corn
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mangos
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Papayas
  • Pineapples
  • Frozen sweet peas
  • Sweet potatoes

Crozer-Keystone Health System provides full-service nutrition centers at its four hospitals, and is committed to the special dietary needs of its patients. For more information about Crozer-Keystone’s nutrition services, including contact information, please visit here.

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