ASK OUR 30 SECOND QUIZ:
When passing the organic produce section in your grocery store, you:
A. March over with a purpose, filling your basket with certified organic pears, bananas, kale, carrots, everything.
B. Eye the section with guilt as you opt for regular old bananas at 69 cents a pound, thinking maybe you’d switch if you were to get pregnant.
C. Walk over to squeeze the tomatoes, but don’t feel convinced that scientific research has proved they’re worth the price.
D. None of the above you haven’t walked through a produce section since they invented frozen pizza.
Even if you answered D, you’ve probably heard the buzz about organic food and seen the label popping up on everything from produce to that pizza. But most people still have doubts. As a physician, I’m constantly askedby patients, friends, even professionals at conferences”Is it really important to eat organic?” I always say yes, primarily because eating organic is simply healthier. Studies show that organic fruits and vegetables can have an average of 25 percent more nutrients than conventional produce. And eating organic meat limits your exposure to synthetic hormones that may pose risks to women in their childbearing years.
Of course, organic foods may not always be available or affordable; some cost an estimated 10 to 40 percent morea steep price hike, especially in this economy. So how can you determine which are the most important foods to buy “green”? To answer that, I looked at the foods women eat most, then considered which ones are the worst offenders when grown or raised according to mainstream methods. Eating these five things organic will go a long way toward protecting your body, and will also make for fewer toxic chemicals in our air and waterand a generally healthier planet.
Organic dairy can have a big impact on your health and the environment, but the truth is young women don’t drink a lot of milk. They do, however, still reach for yogurt. Like all organic dairy, organic yogurts are made without the use of hormones and antibiotics two of the things women tell me they worry about most and can have higher levels of omega 3s, the heart healthy fats we Americans don’t get enough of, as well as beta carotene, which may play a role in cancer prevention. I like varieties such as Horizon Organic and Stonyfield Farm, but any dairy product with the USDA Organic seal is probably a good choice. A food can’t carry the seal unless it’s made without toxic chemicals, antibiotics or synthetic hormones, and contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients. (“Hormone free” dairy products are better than their conventional counterparts, but they may not have as many omega 3s as organics.)
Organic dairy can also be much less damaging to the environment. We’ve already started to see how, as millions of people have switched, farming practices have improved in a way that will help reduce greenhouse gases. That’s a good prescription for your health and the planet.
Conventional lettuceespecially imported salad greenshas some of the highest levels of pesticides in any food, according to data from the USDA. But that’s not the only reason it’s near the top of my list of organic foods for women. It’s number two because women also tend to eat salads far more often than men do, which means that pound for pound, you’re exposed to higher amounts of these chemicals.
Start your salad with an organic bed of greens, and if there’s another veggie you always throw inwhether that’s cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, peas, or imported broccoli and carrots (all high in pesticides that the Environmental Protection Agency considers toxic)make that organic too. Washing produce is always a good idea, but don’t believe that necessarily eliminates all the possible health risks of pesticides; pesticide levels are measured after produce is scrubbed.
The health benefits here bear repeating: You’ll get as much as 25 percent more antioxidants compared with conventional producethat’s like an extra serving of fruits and vegetables every day, a boost that we know could lower the risk of heart disease and some cancers.
Apples are the second most commonly eaten fruit (after bananas), and rank high on the toxic pesticide list. What’s more, conventional varietieseven after they’ve been peeledoften contain chemicals called organophosphates that can damage brain and nerve cells. Organic apples tend to be higher in nutrients, and have been found to taste better in blind studies. Not an apple eater? Choose the organic variety of fruit that you eat most from this list, since all have a higher pesticide load: nectarines, peaches, pears, strawberries, cherries and imported grapes and cantaloupe. When it comes to your health, there are some fruits you don’t have to worry about buying green: Oranges, bananas and pineapples have very low levels of toxic chemicals.
4. Marinara Sauce
Going organic with your pasta topper will cost you only a few extra pennies, if anything at all. It’s worth it because the average American consumes about 90 pounds of tomatoes a year, most of that in sauces (and sometimes in ketchup), and in a number of studies researchers have shown that organic tomatoes have significantly more lycopene. In case you’re not familiar with this potent antioxidant, it’s what gives tomatoes their deep red hue, and has been found to lower cancer and heart disease risks, and help repair cell damage. Those health benefits are actually intensified when tomatoes are cooked rather than eaten raw. In a perfect world, we could all afford to buy organic tomatoes too, but at the very least try organic sauces.
If you like to have a good burger every now and then, I’d recommend that you make it organic. Some scientists are concerned about a possible link between the hormones that are found in conventional beef and breast cancer in young women. While we don’t know definitively whether these hormones pose a cancer risk, we do know that grass fed beef tends to be leaner and can have about five times the healthy omega 3 fats of non organic beef.
As with organic dairy, choosing free range beef benefits the environment; if you want to have an even bigger impact, try to swap one serving of meat a week for other protein sources, like beans or tofuit takes 32 times more energy to produce 100 calories of beef than it does plant food.
And a Bonus: Wine
Researchers have been clamoring about the health benefits of red wine, specifically resveratrol, an antioxidant found in the skin of red grapes. Scientists are raving about it because it has been shown to have gentle antiviral, anti inflammatory, anticancer, neuroprotective, anti aging and life prolonging effectsin other words, it could help prevent everything from a common cold to cancer, as well as slow aging. (It’s no wonder so many of us love it.) And you could get these benefits from a moderate amount (about a glass a day) of any type of red wine.
So why do I recommend going green with your cabernet or Syrah? Organic wines average 32 percent higher resveratrol levels. (Organic grapes also have more of the antioxidant, in case you’re not a wine drinker.) Unlike the USDA seal for foods, there is not always an organic seal for wine you will see it on the label, but you’ll probably need to ask your sommelier or even check the company’s website. (Two brands I like are Grgich Hills and Bonterra.) And perhaps the best news: Anecdotally, my friends report that organic wines don’t cause a hangover. Cheers to that!