Is There An Organic Advantage?
Go for less than perfect. Most people choose plump, blemish-free produce. But it turns out that stress prompts plants to protect themselves by producing more phytonutrients, the very substances that may also have beneficial effects for human health. "The reality is that the beat-up-looking ones may be the richer ones in phytonutrients," Spence said.
Find balance. Even the most ardent supporters of organic food acknowledge that it's not always available and may be too pricey for some. Plus there are trade-offs, notes Nancy Creamer, director of North Carolina State University's Center for Environmental Farming Systems. Is it better for the environment to buy organic raspberries that have been flown in from California or to purchase berries from a local farmer who grows conventionally? "It's not an easy question to answer," said Creamer, who buys both types for her family.
Read the fine print. Just because it's organic doesn't mean it's nutritious. Example: the organic, chocolate-covered, frozen soy dessert bars cited by the Nutrition Action letter of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The bars, whose ingredients include organic coconut oil, contain a third of a day's worth of saturated fat. "Just because foods are organically grown, they still could be loaded with organic fat and organic sugar, and they still could be contaminated with dangerous bacteria," noted CSPI director Michael Jacobson when organic certification began being implemented in 2002.
Prepare to pay more. A 2000-2001 survey of wholesale market prices in Boston found that buyers spent 30 percent more for organic broccoli compared with conventionally grown; 25 percent more for organic carrots and 10 percent more for organic mesclun lettuce. Organic foods tend may have a shorter shelf life than conventionally grown food, which is often bred to be picked green and then slowly ripen during shipping and sales.
Free-range doesn't mean organic. When it comes to livestock foodstuffs -- meat, dairy, eggs and poultry -- there's no official definition of "free-range." But producers of organic meat, dairy and poultry items are required to use 100 percent organically grown feed or pasture land and are prohibited from using antibiotics and growth hormones. By comparison, products labeled simply "natural" or "free-range" don't have to meet those standards.
Grow your own. No back yard or time to till? Then practice urban "farming" in large pots on your balcony or deck. They're great for small crops of lettuce or tomatoes.
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