The nation's food supply has been invaded by an army of hormone-disrupting agents. Take your average tomato, which, as designed by nature, is packed with nutrients and cancer-fighting antioxidants. As grown by today's conventional farming methods, the tomato gets sprayed with a host of pesticides, then picked too early because it has to travel thousands of miles to your grocery store, then sprayed with argon gas to make it ripen (since it didn't get the chance on the vine). Suddenly, our tomato is a lot less healthy for us and for the environment.
So, what's the best way to avoid 90 percent of the chemicals involved in growing food and getting it to market? Eat organic foods instead of conventional ones. The term "organic" applies to farming methods that produce food without pesticides or other chemicals. The idea is that by allowing natural processes and biodiversity to enrich the soil and protect crops from pests, as opposed to relying upon synthetic chemicals or genetically modified seeds, we'll get healthier food and a healthier environment. Here are some of the many benefits of eating organic foods:
Organics help you avoid pesticides and other chemicals. Certified organic foods cannot be grown with synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.
Organics help you avoid scary hormones and antibiotics. To be certified organic, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products must come from animals that have not been given growth hormones or antibiotics.
Organic fruits and veggies can be more nutritious. Because organic fruits and vegetables can't rely on pesticides, they have to fight off bugs with their own "immune systems," naturally raising their antioxidant levels. Also, conventional farming methods can strip nutrients out of soil over time, so there's a good chance your organic fruits and vegetables came from better-quality, nutrient-rich ground.
You can tell if a fruit or vegetable is organic by looking at the number on the sticker: If it has five digits and starts with 9, the food is organic. If it only has four digits, the food is conventional. (If it has five digits and starts with 8, the food is conventional and genetically modified.) For foods with multiple ingredients, identifying truly organic products becomes trickier, so look for the USDA organic seal. The USDA regulates the claims a food can make about how organic it is. Here's what the label lingo means:
- "100 percent organic" — All of the ingredients in the food are certified organic. These products can display the USDA organic seal.
- "Organic" — At least 95 percent of the ingredients are organic. These products can display the USDA organic seal.
- "Made with organic ingredients" — At least 70 percent of the ingredients are certified organic. The other 30 percent can be anything. These products cannot display the USDA organic seal.
- "All natural" — This term is not regulated and can mean anything. Don't rely on it.