This is Part 2 in the “Summer in the Kitchen” series.
Looking for some “ins and outs” of the whole “organic” and “natural food” world? This has been a journey for my family; one that we continue on each and every day.
Let’s start by talking about labeling. Labeling can be such an interesting thing. Many of the words we come to rely on like ‘all natural‘ aren’t regulated words, so their meanings can really vary. Reading food labels can be an amusing pastime. Seeing that a jar of applesauce is “naturally fat-free” does not mean much since really the only way to add fat to that jar would be to add oil. I like my applesauce with a bit of cinnamon & sugar not with Canola.
“Natural Flavors:” That phrase can be seen on a box of fruit snacks that have at one time found their way in and out of our cupboard. What I found was that I would find the word “juice” when reading the ingredient list. Yet, often I would also see corn syrup on top of the list as well. That’s not what I would personally call “natural” when it comes to snacks for my children. Unfortunately for them, that means they rarely get things like ‘fruit snacks’ from a box anymore. I heard grumbling about it for the first month or two, but I’ve found now that they don’t even miss those type of treats. They are much happier with a “natural” apple or pear.
My family eats mostly organic chicken, and we always are sure to buy gluten free meat. One time the phrase “all natural” unfortunately caught someone by surprise when they were preparing a meal to share with our family. The host knew that my husband has a severe gluten allergy, so she was excited to find some boneless, skinless chicken breast at her local store labeled “all natural.” A few days after dining at her home, my husband noticed he was really reacting to something. We started making a list of everything he had eaten in the previous week. We realized that nothing was new other than that one meal. Upon checking with the hostess (who was a family member or I wouldn’t have asked), she told me what type of “all natural” chicken we had eaten. I called the manufacturer and found out that up to 15% of their “all natural” chicken was made up of broth, and that they didn’t even know what was in the broth because they get their chicken from so many individual manufacturers. They said that most of those manufacturers would use gluten to bulk up the chicken broth. Yuck! Nowhere on the label was any of this shown.
Becoming familiar with the basic differences between the terminology of “natural” and “organic” is a good first step. I found this chart explaining the USDA organic expectations on the Stonyfield Yogurt Blog, and I thought it did an excellent job explaining the terms. The word “natural” does not seem to mean very much in most instances.
Buying only certified organic products is a great goal, yet most people’s budgets may not support buying only this type of food. Understanding that not all organic foods are created equally is also crucial as you are beginning the process of switching over. Grasping that taking small steps in buying organic is also the smart thing to do!
Produce is the obvious place to begin buying organic. Recognize the fruits and vegetables that are often treated with harmful chemicals, and realize that not all produce is grown equally. The Environmental Working Group publishes a list every year that tells what the “Dirty Dozen +” and “Clean 15” foods are. I will give you a hint – anything that you eat in its entirety, such as apples, grapes and cherry tomatoes, have probably been treated with pesticides. Other fruits, such as avocados and pineapples rarely have chemical residue. This makes sense since most bugs are probably not interested in dining on pineapple rind either!
Is buying natural, non-organic produce ever a good idea? Sure; especially if you can meet the farmer responsible for growing the fruit and vegetables. In our next “Summer in the Kitchen” series, I will be talking about shopping at farmer’s markets. When I shopped at one last week, I went home with a bunch of natural produce that I felt was just as good as organic! Why can I make this claim? Finding out from the growers that they hand pick every weed and personally kill all of the bugs was enough to convince me that care was given to the production of their food.
The key thing with any produce is cleaning it well. Because of that, you will find one of my favorite products mentioned often in any Norwex food related blog. The NORWEX VEGGIE AND FRUIT SCRUB CLOTH is a favorite of my family because it does not only remove dirt but also wax and other debris. Being able to safely and thoroughly remove toxins may allow you to not have to buy everything organic.
Whether you buy 0rganic, natural or traditional grocery store products, the key is preparation. Cleaning your food well and using items when they are at the freshest will allow you to have healthier foods. Choosing to make much of your food from scratch as opposed to using processed foods also goes a long way. Have further questions about organic food? This article from the USDA just may provide you with the answers that you are still looking for.
What foods are you sure to always buy organic, and why? What are your “pet peeves” with deceptive food labeling? I’d love to hear from you!