Eating Real Starts Way Before the Grocery Store
My philosophy to always Eat Real also pertains to the way food is produced, not just whether or not it has been overly processed or not. The majority of people never think of how a piece of food got to their plate, and there are even kids today who don’t understand that fruits and vegetables come from plants that grow out of the ground. Without this knowledge how can we make informed decisions about what is best to put in our body? Unfortunately, it can seem more costly to purchase healthy food, never mind organic foods. In fact, those with low food security are 4 times more likely to think it costs more to eat healthy. Dietitians are here to prove that thought wrong! While this post focuses on purchasing tips for real food, there are sites and resources to help with the meal preparation. A meal for a family off the McDonald’s dollar menu may seem logical, but you can make a meal for a whole family that is healthy for under $5. Here are some tips on the Slow Foods USA $5 Challenge website as well as some more ideas that support this initiative from Eating Well Magazine.
Pesticides in Food
Some people ask which foods are most important to buy organic. While I personally choose to buy organic whenever possible (and notice a significantly different taste in apples and bananas to the point where I won’t eat non-organic) there are times for people when economically it is more difficult. Certain crops retain more pesticides than others and a “dirty dozen” list has been created from the most recent research on organic produce. The Environmental Working Group puts out the list on pesticide residue each year. Here is the current “Dirty Dozen” list:
Dirty Dozen (Buy these organic, they retain the most pesticides!)
- Hot peppers
- Nectarines (imported)
- Bell Peppers
- Kale/Collard Greens
- Summer squash
If you think about all the chemicals added, here is what you get:
The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) created a website to let you know what chemical pesticides are in and on your food and how they impact health negatively. According to their website, What’s On My Food? “is a searchable database designed to make the public problem of pesticide exposure visible and more understandable… We link pesticide food residue data with the toxicology for each chemical, making this information easily searchable for the first time.” Download the app to your phone too!
Genetically Modified Foods
Most Americans don’t know that their foods are genetically engineered, so pointing out which foods are more likely to be genetically engineered is step 1. Only certain crops are approved by the FDA to be grown genetically engineered. If you see these crops or foods containing them, and do not see the Non GMO Project Verification symbol or Certified Organic symbol, they are likely genetically engineered:
- Soy (edamame, tofu etc)
- Sugar Beets (“sugar” on ingredient lists)
- Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash
Animal products such as beef, dairy, chicken and eggs are tricky because they are likely given feed that is made from genetically engineered corn, soy, alfalfa etc. The “natural” label on your meats doesn’t mean much unless as above, you see Non-GMO Project Verification or the USDA Organic Seal.
The Non-GMO Project unfortunately isn’t regulating all of our produce yet, but can help you choosing shelf stable foods that might not be organic but at least are not genetically modified. There is a free iphone app for the non-gmo project that shows foods and brands that are non-gmo. More and more brands are being verified and added to their list regularly! http://www.nongmoproject.org/
Info on the increased resistance to genetically engineered corn and how it is/will impact our environment http://blog.ucsusa.org/is-this-sustainable-agriculture-resistance-to-engineered-bt-corn-on-the-rise
Humane Treatment of and Natural Raising of Animals and Seafood
This actually correlates with the nutrient quality of your foods too. For example, eggs coming from from Free-Range or Pasture Raised chickens (that see the light of day) have 3-6 times more vitamin D than eggs coming from conventionally raised chickens (indoors in cages or just indoors in crowded pens or barns). Wild caught salmon contains more omega-3’s than farm raised. Grass fed beef contains more omega 3’s that cows fed corn too, but also has a dramatically lower E. Coli count!
Certified humane labels are popping up more and more: http://www.certifiedhumane.org/. I don’t consume red meat or much poultry but if/when I do eat chicken, I make sure it came from a local farm that has their animals outside and able to run freely or has a certified human or other animal welfare certification. Eggs are the animal product I consume most frequently, and Pete & Gerry’s organic and certified humane brand is sold at BJ’s Wholesale for just $3.99 / dozen. My husband still consumes red meats on occasion and we like to get it from the local farmers market.
Finally, if you are on twitter or pinterest, I have become pretty active on the social media sites and post articles/info and retweet a lot of the more important news on the food industry and food policy. You can follow me @eatreallivewell or on pinterest here is my food safety/technology board: http://www.pinterest.com/EatRealRD/food-safety-technology-agriculture/
The concern for most is the cost of organic. This is very much due to the cost of certification and the fact that the government subsidizes non-organic crops. Here are some links and tips. Keep in mind, organic snacks still contribute calories, fat, sugar etc to your diet! An organic cookie is still a cookie!
1) Shop the “dirty dozen” for produce I listed above.
2) Choose rBST/rBGH free milk even if its not organic – Wawa recently went back to not giving their cows hormones and trader joe’s is a safe bet too. Here a list a blogger compiled of 30 hormone free brands: http://mommygoesgreen.com/2013/04/are-your-dairy-products-hormone-free-30-dairy-brands-that-are/
3) Choose grass fed beef and free range poultry… but eat less of it. The added cost will balance out and benefit your health. A 16 ounce package of dried organic black beans costs just $2.49 at Wegmans. This can give you close to 3 lbs of beans. How much would 3 lbs of meat cost you as a protein source?
4) Shop at local farmers markets: talk to the farmers and see how they raise their animals and crops. Many of them practice organic methods but don’t pay the money for certification. Because they are local you don’t pay for transportation costs too. The Wrightstown farmers market runs april through the weekend before Thanksgiving and several of the farmers there use organic methods but do not pay for certification so they can keep costs down for us! Some local farms that have ingredients popping up on restaurant menu’s & are in stores like the new Organnon’s in Wrightstown are Blue Moon Acres (who had a free food fest a few weeks ago), None Such Farm, Blooming Glen Farm, Anchor Run, Pennypack farm and more.
Find other local farms at http://www.localharvest.org/.
5) Choose grocery store natural brands. Nature’s Promise at Giant tends to be the least expensive. Trader Joe’s and Wegmans aren’t as convenient in terms of location for most of us that live in or near Newtown, but definitely are the most economical in terms of natural foods.
6) Shop at wholesale clubs: BJ’s & Costco offer organic and humanely raised beef and even organic produce. I buy organic romaine, mixed greens, potatoes, onions, garlic, bananas, apples and even certified humane eggs (when it isn’t farmers market season) at BJ’s frequently. Compared to Giant where 16 oz organic mixed greens cost 6.99, they are only 4.39 at BJ’s.
7) In January 2013 Whole Foods started a movement to show communities that you could shop their economically. The whole foods website and twitter account even highlighted a blogger project where they had bloggers with a family of 4 purchase all organic food at whole foods for their whole family for $100 per week and blog all of the recipes/dishes they’ve eaten all week on just that food. The stores have reduced prices drastically since first opening. Here is a blog post entitled Eating Near the Poverty Line at Whole Foods.
8) Buy in bulk! You can get rice, beans, nuts, dried fruit, oats etc that are organic for much cheaper than the conventional version if you go to the bulk section at Whole Foods and bag what you want 🙂 Wegmans has organic bulk foods too but they tend to be more expensive.
9) Clip & print coupons!
http://www.horizondairy.com/ (coupon at lower left of screen)
http://www.mambosprouts.com/coupon-gallery You should also sign up for mambo sprouts emails as they send other coupons sometimes too
http://www.stonyfield.com/user?destination=coupon – you have to sign up at stonyfield but they have a great rewards program too.
Earth’s Best baby food rewards program: http://www.earthsbest.com/content/earths-best-loyalty-program
10) In store coupons
Check the ones in Giant when you first walk in and pick up the “Nature’s Marketplace” in the natural foods section at Wegmans.
Also the EWG’s list of the dirty dozen endocrine disruptors: http://www.ewg.org/research/dirty-dozen-list-endocrine-disruptors
If you would like to follow along with what goes on in food policy on a regular basis from supporting GMO labeling to banning bee pesticides and getting artificial dyes out of our foods, here are some sites to go to or sign up for newsletters on:
Let me know if you have any questions!