Monday, 13 May 2013

'eating clean' - how to choose organic

Before I start this post, I have an announcement to make.

I'm going to be human for a second here and confess that I was not entirely satisfied with my last post, 'an introduction to eating 'clean' - why choose organic'.

A hundred thousand years ago, when I was in grade 2, my schoolteacher nicknamed me 'The Queen of Reading'. Then, when I was in grade 6, my schoolteacher nicknamed me 'The Queen of Writing'. Resultantly, I have learned to set myself pretty high standards when it comes to articulating and explaining. Being a pharmacist, it's a big part of my job - it's my responsibility to ensure that my patients know how and why they need to take their medications.

So last week, I tried to cram blogging into a day where I also had to take advantage of a sale at my local health food store (I am a girl after all, and 'sale' is pretty much my favourite 4- letter word after 'love' and 'food'. Oh wait, my boyfriend's name is a 4- letter word. I guess 'sale' is in my top 4 favourite 4- letter words then). And then I had to get to work. The end result was a post that started off quite well - but then, as I hurried to finish the post to get to the shops - ended a little abruptly.

It's been on my mind all week, and today, I've done what I should have when I got home from work that night last week. I edited my post. Yes, it's longer. But you know what? I think it flows much better and explains things much clearer, too. And because living organically is such an integral part of living 'clean', I honestly think that it's important that I did what I did.

If you have already read the post prior to today (May 14th, 2013), please read it again. Worst case scenario, you'll just end up refreshing your memory before you start reading this post, which is part two of the 'choosing organic' topic, anyway.

If you haven't already read it, great! I strongly encourage you to read it now.

Alright, rant over. Let's begin.

If you're reading this section of my post at the moment, it (hopefully) means that you have read my last post and understand why choosing organic products and produce is so important. The focus of this post will therefore be on how to choose organic produce.

A demand for organic farming started in the 1940's, but it has only been in the last few decades that the revolution has really gained momentum.

You see, many years ago, technology and science lead to the creation of synthetic chemicals that, when added to food, prolonged that food's flavour, appearance and shelf life. They were embraced by the commercial world with open arms because they meant greater profitability for the manufacturers.

Enhanced shelf life meant that consumers would be more likely to purchase something, since they knew they would be able to keep it in their fridge or pantry for a longer period of time. A longer shelf life also meant a greater chance that the product would be purchased before it spoiled.  A product that maintained its flavour, colour and supposed ' freshness' were also more likely to sell.

But the addition of these substances to our food has not necessarily been for the greater good. Their introduction has coincided with an increase in 'modern illnesses' - food allergies and intolerances, an epidemic of overweight and obese populations, and medical conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.

In an attempt to revert the statistics back to what they were prior to the use of these chemicals, people began to go back to eating foods that resembled their natural state as much as possible.

There has been a huge movement towards organic food, raw food, biodynamic food and unprocessed food. The demand has been met with supply - supermarkets and food giants are sitting up and taking notice. Now organic food and food products are quite abundant.

The trick is not to look for the word 'organic', but the words 'certified organic'. Strict government regulations dictate what can be deemed 'organic', and only foods that have been tested and certified by authorities as being organic can claim to be a certified organic product.

Of course, organic farming methods makes profitability much more difficult. It is much harder (and more expensive) for farmers to yield the same amount of quality produce without using the chemicals that would normally prolong appearance, taste and longevity. The increased costs are then passed along to the consumer - so, if you haven't already noticed, organic produce and products are typically (or in my experience, always) more expensive.

How to cope?

Well, as a general rule of thumb, the thinner the skin on a fruit or vegetable, the more easily pesticides and other chemicals can be absorbed and penetrate the flesh. Thin- skinned fruits like berries, for example, should be purchased organic whenever possible. When impossible (so when access or finance is a hurdle), be sure to at least rinse the fruit or vegetable very thoroughly, especially if the skin is going to be eaten. 

Thicker skins make absorption and penetration by chemicals harder - so they are less important to purchase organic. The key word here is 'less' important, not 'unimportant', so give them a decent rinse under clean water before cooking or eating them, too.

Buying organic is also less important when purchasing thick- skinned foods whose skins are not eaten. Bananas are peeled before they're eaten. The same (usually) applies to pumpkins and melons. For thin- skinned fruits, however, the skin is usually where most of the nutrients lie, so where possible, rinse the fruit thoroughly under clean water instead of just peeling away the skin.

The following list is known as 'the clean fifteen' - the fifteen fruits or vegetables where pesticides are least used during farming (and therefore less important to buy organic).

  • onions
  • sweetcorn
  • pineapple
  • avocado
  • asparagus
  • peas
  • mango
  • eggplant
  • rockmelon / cantaloupe
  • kiwi fruit
  • cabbage
  • watermelon
  • sweet potato
  • grapefruit
  • mushrooms

This next list is known as 'the dirty dozen' - they require the most pesticides during farming and therefore require the most thorough rinsing prior to cooking or eating, or should be purchased organic.

  • apples
  • celery
  • strawberries
  • peaches
  • spinach
  • nectarines
  • grapes
  • capsicums / bell peppers
  • potatoes
  • blueberries
  • lettuce
  • cucumbers

Stress less - there is no need to commit these lists to memory. If you really want to, you can write down the lists and put them into your purse so that you have the lists to refer to when grocery shopping. Or you can do as I do - just buy organic when possible, and wash everything else very thoroughly (or peel away the skin where relevant).

I'm done with blogging for today (editing the last one and writing this one has got me spent!), and there is no sale for me to hurry off to. So that means it's time for me to play around in the kitchen (in other words, stay tuned for an upcoming recipe post!) and then head of to work.


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