Posts Tagged ‘Organic’

Use of Pesticides Continues to Make Some Foods Unsafe for Consumption

April 28th, 2013 at 4:58 pm by timigustafson

An apple a day used to keep the doctor away, at least according to folk wisdom. But not any more – unless it’s organically grown. Apples top the list of foods contaminated with pesticides, says the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental health research and advocacy organization, in its annual report called “The Dirty Dozen™.”

The listing of foods that may have toxic levels of pesticides is part of the group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticide in Produce, which draws its data from tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Even after washing, more than two thirds of the tens of thousands of food samples tested by the agencies showed pesticide residues. The most contaminated fruits were apples, strawberries, grapes, peaches and imported nectarines. Among vegetables, the most contaminated were celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, cherry tomatoes and hot peppers.

The contamination levels varied significantly between different foods. Potatoes had a higher total weight of pesticides than any other food crop. A single grape tested for 15 different pesticides. So did sweet bell peppers.

Corn, which is widely used as an ingredient in processed foods, does not appear in the EWG’s guide because as such it’s no longer considered a fresh vegetable. Neither is soy. Still, concern over pesticide contamination should also include processed items.

In addition to its notorious “Dirty Dozen™” rating, the EWG also publishes a list of the least contaminated foods, called the “Clean Fifteen™.” These show the lowest levels of pesticide residues and are generally safe for consumption. They include pineapple, papaya, mango, kiwi, cantaloupe, grapefruit, corn, onion, avocado, frozen sweet peas, cabbage, asparagus, eggplant, sweet potatoes and mushrooms.

Pesticides have long been linked to a number of health concerns, particularly to developmental problems in young children. Some pesticides have been found to be carcinogenic, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

There are currently about 350 different pesticides registered with the government and permitted for use on food crops. Among the most toxic ones are organophosphate, a potent neurotoxin that can adversely affect brain development in children, even at low doses; and organochlorine, a once widely used pesticide that is now officially banned but still persists in the environment and continues to pollute plant foods grown in contaminated soil.

Particularly disconcerting is that pesticides have been found in processed baby food. For example, green beans used for baby food tested positive for five pesticides, including organophosphate, and pears showed more than twice as many.

While there is only so much consumers can do to protect themselves and their loved ones against the exposure to pesticides and other toxins in their food supply, it is important to have the information available that allows for better-informed choices. Buying organically grown produce may be the best option, but it’s not affordable for everyone. Mixing both organic and regular foods can be a workable compromise, thereby avoiding the worst offenders and limiting the damage to your budget with the rest.

In addition, you may also want to visit your local farmers market once in a while. Ask the farmers about their farming methods and whether they use pesticides. Some small farms may not be certified “organic” because of the costs involved but still adhere to eco-friendly procedures.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Remembering Harvest Season

October 21st, 2012 at 7:04 am by timigustafson

Although I grew up as a city girl, a memorable period of my childhood was spent in the English countryside. Of those days, I recall most fondly the harvest season. Because the local farmers couldn’t handle the workload by themselves (we are talking agriculture before heavy machinery came into use), all able bodies in the nearby villages, including young children, were enlisted to bring in the crops.

Harvesting then was a race against time and we all had a sense of urgency. Having enough food to get us safely through the winter was not to be taken for granted. Relying on imports from far-flung places around the world was not an option. “Locally grown” was not a slogan back then, it was all we had available to us.

Having successful harvests is a major concern in all societies, including ours. ‘Thanksgiving’ is one of our most celebrated holidays. Harvest festivals of all sorts are observed around the globe and they have a similar meaning, namely to commemorate the fact that survival is not guaranteed but depends on hard work as well as the cooperation of forces beyond our control. In a way, as joyful an event as it may be, this should be a rather humbling experience. It shows us that we are ultimately not in command of our fate, at least not at all times and in every regard.

When news broke last summer that record heat waves were devastating crops all over the country, dramatic increases in food prices were announced almost immediately. That put families on already tight food budgets further at risk of malnutrition and diet-related diseases. Widespread hunger, in the past only considered a persistent problem in developing countries, is becoming a reality here as well.

It is also a sad fact that hunger and obesity often go together, especially among poor children. The most affordable foods are typically highly processed and laden with refined carbohydrates, fat, salt and sugar, all ingredients known to cause weight gain while offering little nutritional value.

Buying locally grown fresh foods can offer a better alternative for everyone, including low-income families. “By focusing your diet on products grown and raised within 100 miles of your home, you will likely end up eating more fruits and vegetables as well,” says Tara Parker-Pope, a health and nutrition writer and frequent contributor to the New York Times/Well blog. She recommends that consumers shop as often as possible at local farmers markets, not only because of the higher food quality at lower cost but also to support food producers who practice more sustainable farming methods.

People need to understand that processed, pre-packaged foods like fast foods and frozen dinners may be convenient and readily available throughout the year, regardless of season or choice of ingredients – but they come at a steep price that is not reflected at the drive-through or checkout counter. To comprehend the real costs of our modern eating styles, we also have to consider the heavy dependency on fossil fuels for fertilizers and pesticides as well as long-distance transportation and refrigeration.

For these reasons and others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend making buying locally grown and harvested foods a priority in every household. Eating nearby grown produce is not only healthier, according to the agency, it also helps the environment and climate by reducing the amounts of energy it takes to put dinner on the table.

So, when you and your loved ones get together this coming Thanksgiving to count your blessings, why not discuss some ideas how you can personally make a few smart diet and lifestyle changes. They eventually may add up to significant differences for both you and the world around you.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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If you are like me and get your produce as much as possible from your local farmers market, you probably expect to receive the best quality food money can buy. After all, you are going directly to the source where you can see, smell, touch and sample real food, just as nature made it.

The demand for “natural” food has steadily grown in the U.S. since the 1970s and is now at an all-time high. The underlying assumption is that “natural” is superior to processed, altered or packaged.

Food manufacturers and retailers love using terms that appeal to people’s longing for the real thing, even if it’s nothing of the kind. There is supposed to be 100% natural fruit- or vegetable juice in aluminum cans. Milk and cheese come from “happy” cows that are allowed to roam freely on luscious meadows. Eggs are laid by “free-ranging” chickens frolicking around the old farmhouse. Of course, much of this is mere fantasy, but it sells.

So, how can consumers really know what they are actually buying when labels say “all natural,” “organic” or “ecological”?

Unfortunately, many food products can be sold as “natural,” regardless whether the facts back up the claim or not. In the U.S., there is no legal definition of terms and phrases like “natural,” “100% natural,” “all natural ingredients,” etc. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actually discourages food manufacturers from using these words because consumers may believe that “natural” is equal or even superior to “organic,” which is clearly not the case.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) describes the meaning of “natural” somewhat vaguely as food that has undergone “minimal processing,” which also excludes the use of artificial ingredients and added colors. But meat from animals that were treated with artificial hormones and that was injected with saline solution to add flavor may still be advertised as “natural,” to name just one example among countless others. In other words, the predicate “natural” is often not worth the shiny label it’s printed on.

By contrast, the term “organic” is clearly defined and highly regulated in most countries, although standards vary. Organic food production is a system that is managed in accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990 by the USDA.

For food products to be certified “organic,” the producers have to comply with a number of strictly controlled conditions and processes, such as avoidance of synthetic chemicals and substances like fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, additives. The land on which “organic” plant foods are grown have to be free from prohibited synthetic chemicals for at least three years or more.

Also excluded are the uses of genetically modified organism, irradiation and biosolids. Certification for organic animal food products forbids the use of growth hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified feed or animal by-products in raising of livestock. Organic eggs have to come from chickens that are both cage-free and free-range.

“Organic” products have to be physically separated from their non-certified counterparts to avoid cross-pollution. Keeping detailed written production and sales records, including documentation of storage, processing, packaging and shipping is also required. Periodic on-site inspections are conducted to make sure that no violations occur.

In the U.S., for processed foods to be labeled “organic,” they must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients. Products that have a minimum of 70 percent organic ingredients can use the label “contains organic ingredients.”

Principally, any business involved in food production can be certified “organic,” including seed suppliers, growers, food processors, retailers and even restaurants as long as they remain in compliance with the requirements. The certification process, however, is expensive and many small farm operators choose to forgo certification even if their practices meet or exceed those required by the USDA.

“Ecological” farming, a.k.a. “sustainable” agriculture is, like “natural,” a much less defined description. Generally speaking, “ecological” farming uses principles that are based on the desire to maintain harmonious relationships between food production and the environment. Central elements are sensible and prudent use of natural resources, such as soil, water and livestock; respect for biological cycles and controls; long-term economic viability of farm operations as well as enhancement of life for farmers and society as a whole.

The issue of “ecological” or “sustainable” agriculture was briefly addressed by congress in the 1990 farm bill, but not much has been done about it ever since. Private organizations like the Food Alliance and Protected Harvest have started to establish some standards and bestow their own certifications, which, of course, have no legal binding power.

So, the question for consumers remains: Is it worth buying foods that may be healthier, more trustworthy and kinder to the environment – but are often much more costly than their regular counterparts? There is no easy answer to that.

I personally try to eat as healthy as I can. To stay within a reasonable budget, I mostly buy locally grown foods when they are in season. Foods I eat raw, like fruits, carrots, tomatoes etc., I preferably buy “organic” to avoid exposure to pesticides. With produce I can wash, peel and cook, I feel comfortable using the regular kind. Animal products are another matter. I usually buy wild-caught fish (not farmed) and poultry that (I think) comes from reliable sources. Other than that, I have to trust that doing my best to shop smartly will more or less keep me out of harms way.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” ( http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter at http://twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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