There you are, in the grocery store produce aisle again, wondering what nutritious and delicious salad or side you can make for dinner tonight. The bounty of spring fruits and veggies is exhilarating.
Only, should you reach for the regular butter leaf lettuce to the left because it's in your budget? Or should you go for the twice as expensive arugula because it’s certified organic?
Why are there "nutrition" sections in supermarkets, and why are specialty, and usually more expensive, food stores called "health food" or "natural food" markets?
Yikes! Isn’t all food supposed to be nutritious, healthy and clean?
Understanding the difference between organic and whole foods, NutriClean and pesticide free, and more, can be confusing.
Below are some guidelines,definitions and behind-the-scenes information about farming practices, regulations and certifications that will arm you with information that you can use to make mindful choices at the market.
Organic, Non-Organic and NutriClean
Organic means grown without synthetic pesticides or natural pest control methods. Non-organic produce is grown with synthetic pesticides.
can include beneficial insects, pheremone traps, barrier papers and other non-toxic methods.
Many major grocery retailers also offer NutriClean
which can apply to both organic and non-organic foods.
NutriClean certification means that the product, grown with or without pesticides, is washed and may have low or undetectable levels of pesticide residue on the surface or internally.
But being free of residue is as far as it goes. Residue free does not mean pesticide free. It just means that the food has been surface washed to remove any film or debris of pesticide that may have been left after harvest.
Certified organic is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program, and verified through accredited certifying agents (including Scientific Certification Systems), to ensure that food is grown without any synthetic pesticides.
For the small family garden, using natural pesticides can actually be less expensive, not to mention safer, than synthetic pesticides in the long run.
But, for large scale farming, raising crops without synthetic pesticides, or using only natural pesticides, can be risky in terms of lower yield, costing farmers more time and money. That is why organic produce often costs more.
When it comes to how you want to spend your money and determine what foods are more important to buy organic, check out the list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15
Another way to reduce the cost of organic produce is to learn to raise your own food, invest in a local community supported agriculture
(CSA) program, or join a local health food store co-op.
CSAs are becoming a highly popular way for people to buy seasonal food directly from a local farm.
Speaking of health food stores, what’s the difference from regular markets? Don’t worry. It doesn’t mean that you are opting to shop at "sick food" stores if you don’t want to pay the premiums of farm fresh, organically raised and grown foods.
Natural-food and health-food markets designate themselves that way to let you know they may carry a wider variety of fresh, seasonal, regional and organic or hard-find products than your regular supermarket. But regular supermarkets are quickly catching up with consumer demands for fresher, unprocessed foods and natural healing remedies by increasing the size of their organic and natural sections.
Sustainable and "Green"
To most consumers, sustainably grown or harvested means that our agricultural industries are replacing or protecting the resources they take, to grow, produce and distribute the food they sell.
People associate the word with other adjectives like "green," "environmentally friendly," "recycled" and other conscious-clearing, feel-good words.
Shade grown coffee drought conscious breweries
, which helps conserve surrounding rainforest, is one example. But defining, verifying and abiding by sustainability rules is tricky at best. McDonald’s recently promised to start buying "verified sustainable" beef by 2016
Let your wallet—and your conscious—be your guide.
Natural and Artificial
Natural is one of the most popular words on the market. It is also one of the most confusing. There are no federal regulations governing use of the term "natural" in labeling. It’s up to you to discern and discriminate.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, many foods advertised as natural contain additives, preservatives, artificial coloring and artificial flavoring.
Practically speaking, natural, at best, means food that has been minimally processed, with no chemicals added. But where there’s a will to deceive, there’s a way.
Take "natural cheddar," for example. The cheese may be real, but nothing is preventing manufacturers from adding all sorts of additives, preservatives and food coloring.
The best way to assure that the food you are eating is pure and natural is to buy it fresh. But if buying fresh and organic isn’t always an option for you, you can at least use this information to make educated choices on your grocery store visits and be an empowered consumer.
Here’s to your health!