Let’s Talk Food: Natural and organic foods

When shopping at the supermarket, we see more and more foods labeled “natural” and “organic.”

Yes, it is the fastest-growing segment in the food industry, and it will grow so fast that the demand will surpass its supply.

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In the produce department, the fruits and vegetables are “whole foods” and therefore “natural,” but there is usually a section of vegetables and fruits in the “organic” section.

Certified organic is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Inspection is done to assure the producers are meetings all the rules. These rules say what can and cannot be used to call products organic. No chemical pesticides or fertilizers can be used on certified produce. Additionally, no fertilizers with sewage sludge can be used, nor can it be genetically modified. Organic animals have to be fed organic feed, cannot be treated with antibiotics or hormones and must be allowed access to the outdoors.

When purchasing fruits and vegetables, these are the ones you should buy organic. According to the nonprofit research firm Environmental Working Group, this list could reduce your pesticide exposure as much as 90 percent.

Buy organic: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce and potatoes.

These fruits and vegetables have less risk of pesticides: onions, avocados, frozen sweet corn, pineapples, mangoes, asparagus, frozen sweet peas, kiwis, bananas, cabbage, broccoli and papayas.

According to Marion Nestle, author of “What to Eat: An Aisle-by-Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating,” eating organic matters and we all need to be educated about all the different buzz words on labels. In other words, “pesticide-free” but not “organic” means you needs to have faith that the producers actually did not use pesticides because, unlike organic, which is monitored by the USDA, there is no one to check if, in fact, no pesticides were applied to your foods.

When Nestle was doing research for her book, the inspectors, growers and sellers said producers, in most cases, do follow the rules to the spirit, but it takes only one who might label pesticide-free and does not adhere to it.

According to Nestle, “children who eat organic foods have lower levels of pesticides in their bodies than those fed industrial foods.

A few studies show that organic foods are higher in minerals and some vitamins, but the increments are small. The real point of organics is better production methods so fewer chemicals will be polluting the soil and water.”

Yes, organic produce does cost more because it costs less to dump herbicides on crops than to pick weeds out.

Recent studies suggests for some fruits and vegetables, organic growing methods might yield distinct nutritional benefits.

In 1993, food scientists at the University of California, Davis set aside 10 adjacent fields in the Sacramento Valley to compare farming methods, including organic and conventional.

Growing in the same soil and climate, they found tomatoes grown organically had higher levels of Vitamin C and other antioxidants; 97 percent higher levels of flavonoids called kaempferol and 79 percent higher levels of another flavonoid called quercetin.

In a 2007 study, organic kiwis had more flavonoids as well as more Vitamin C than their conventional counterparts.

The possible reason, according to Alyson Mitchell, chemist at UC Davis, “In conventional farming, growers apply nitrogen directly, which causes plants to grow like crazy. The result: a higher yield. Organic farming, on the other hand, uses manure and compost for fertilizer, resulting in slower growth. That, in turn, favors the development of what plant biologists call ‘secondary metabolites,’ or the substances that make carrots orange and tomatoes red, and also account for flavor and nutrient content.”

Natural could mean only minimally processed when it comes to poultry, eggs or meat, but natural on most other labels is used more for marketing purposes. Natural has no legal meaning, according to Bruce Silverglade, legal director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. What is a “natural” flavor on a carbonated cola label? It consists of carbonated water, preservatives such as citric acid (Vitamin C) and high fructose corn syrup, which is derived from a natural source material — corn.

So, is the label lying? It is because it could mean it does not contain artificial or synthetic ingredients.

This is why reading labels is so important. A natural label on a food product containing high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils is acceptable according to the FDA because it uses generally recognized as safe, or GRAS, as a rule of thumb.

According to Katherine Tallmadge, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietary Association, GRAS means exactly what it says: that the product in question is generally recognized by the scientific community as safe to add to foods but that it might not have been specifically tested for adverse effects.

Here is what we need to do when we go shopping:

1. Choose whole foods.

2. Buy organic.

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3. Read labels.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.