So you want to eat and live healthier but it feels like you need a secret decoder ring to figure out what is actually healthy. Let me help. Firstly, labels on fresh fruits and vegetables are pretty simple, right? – either it’s organic, or not – or are they? What does organic really mean? and why is it that some items are grown in an organic manner but don’t have the label? Then there are foods and personal care and health and beauty items in pretty green bottles that say “natural” but I can’t pronounce half of the ingredients! What’s that all about? And don’t get me started on vegetarian fed, grass fed and all of those variations that sort of sound the same….
Let’s dive in shall we?….
What does organic mean? There are a strict set of regulations. Organic produce must be:
- Produced without excluded methods, (e.g., genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge). Policy on genetically modified organisms (pdf)
- Produced using allowed substances. View the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List).
- Overseen by a USDA National Organic Program-authorized certifying agent, following all USDA organic regulations.
Why may something be grown or raised organic but not bear the label? Organic regulations are quite strict and can be expensive. You have to be able to provide at least three years of proof that your products have been produced in an organic manner. Once the three years are completed, THEN you can apply for organic certification which can cost several hundred up to several thousand dollars. Then you must be re-certified every year. Quite frankly, some small farms just simply can’t afford it. However, you can NOT assume that simply because something is “locally grown” or sold at your local Farmer’s Market that pesticides weren’t used or that it is any cleaner or healthier. You have to ask to be sure but at least at your local farmer’s market, you can look someone in the eye and find out.
Then there’s the whole “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” propaganda. Please know that “clean” means it contains the LEAST amount of pesticides – not none. I appreciate the sentiment but you can’t rest on your laurels as the lists change as well. Strawberries shot up to the top of the dirty list this year.
What is a GMO? “A GMO, or genetically modified organism, is a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified using recombinant DNA methods (also called gene splicing), gene modification or transgenic technology. This relatively new science creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.” English? DNA form another thing (plant, animal, or bacteria even) is rammed into the DNA at the equivalent of several hundred miles per hour with the HOPE that it will demonstrate the desired effect. never mind the fact that where it lands is haphazard and the it could land right smack dab in the middle of another gene for say a nutrient that is now rendered defunct because it is now like a bad movie “DNA Interrupted”.
Unfortunately, pretty much anything in a box or a bottle (unless it is Non-GMO Certified) will contain (high fructose) corn syrup or soybean oil as its first ingredient. Ingredients are listed in order according to volume so the first thing listed makes up the largest portion of the ingredients. 90% of all corn and soy in this country is genetically modified. Also, unless it says sugar cane, the “sugar” is genetically modified beet root. Oh! and did I mention that soy is a hormone modulator and can mimic estrogen in our bodies? On that note I’ll choose (D) – none of the above…
Can GMO’s be used in organic products? “The use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is prohibited in organic products. This means an organic farmer can’t plant GMO seeds, an organic cow can’t eat GMO alfalfa or corn, and an organic soup producer can’t use any GMO ingredients.”
There are plenty of retailers that are certified and registered as Non-GMO.
What does “free range” mean? Not much….”Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” Catch that? “allowed access to”. That literally could just mean there is a teeny tiny door on the side of a warehouse sized coop with a VERY small fenced in area that the chickens can enter – if they can physically find it and walk thru the door….
Your best bet is to look for “Pasture Raised” or “Pastured’ (not pasteurized) meats and eggs. When animals are truly allowed to roam free in a pasture, then they naturally eat a balanced diet that provides the proper nutrients that are then passed on to you. Prime example from my own kitchen:
Top right: Organic eggs from a popular specialty store
Bottom left: Farm fresh, pastured raised eggs.
You see the difference? All of that deep golden color means more nutrients for you….
The same thing applies to “grass fed” versus “vegetarian fed”. Tell me that you didn’t think that those two things were the same. The marketing machine is hoping that you did.
“Vegetarian fed” = grain (corn and soy – likely GMO). Cows are NOT designed to eat and digest corn hence the E.Coli and other bacteria that can run rampant when they do. Switching them back to eating grass can drop the amount of E. Coli in their systems by up to 80% in just five days – without giving them antibiotics! Also, grass fed beef naturally contains more Omega 3 which is a great anti-inflammatory and supports your brain and nervous tissue (and is less likely to contain pesticides if the cows are allowed to roam free in a pasture).
In addition, those yummy golden eggs? That extra color comes from chickens that roam free and get extra protein. That protein comes from eating bugs, etc. (I know, I know) that are supposed to be a natural part of their diets that’s lacking when they only eat grain. So be wary of the big colorful signs at the meat counter that simply say “vegetarian fed”…
Then there’s fish. Wild caught or farmed? Well, farmed fish are crammed in pens and fed pellets or feed that is laden with mercury, pesticides, and leftover fish bits. Then there’s the sea lice. Yes, lice. There are plenty of documentaries like this one here that describe the atrocities at length. When talking salmon, Sockeye or Alaskan are typically wild caught. The rest are likely farm raised. Feel free to ask your fish monger at your local grocery store. Talk with them and get to know them. They’ll probably tell you the real deal and they may even tell you what’s good on sale. Mine does.
Also, be aware that genetically modified “Frankenfish” will be coming to a store near you soon. Fortunately Costco actually declared that they will NOT sell it. Since Costco is one of the largest retailers around, that’s a really good thing!
How about “natural”?! Ummm yeah that means pretty much nothing… Anything even remotely “derived” from a “natural source” can be deemed natural. Had a strawberry shake lately? or a red colored drink? Know where the “natural” red dye comes from? BUGS. Yum!
It’s a jungle out there people. Try not to get overwhelmed. Start small. Do what you can when you can. Don’t go spend a fortune revamping your whole pantry all at once. As things run out or expire look for healthier options. In time your fridge and pantry will have had a facelift for the better. Just put one foot in front of the other and before you know it you will be running with the best of them!
Happy Healthy Living
Until next time…
Take Home Tidbits
- Organic includes non-GMO items.
- 90% of corn and soy is genetically modified.
- Soy mimics estrogen in our bodies.
- “Natural” means pretty much nothing.
Questions and/or comments? Ask me below.
The Doctor is in!