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What Does It Mean to 'Eat Green?'

Fair trade, organic, local, hormone-free, pesticide-free, free-range? Confused by the multitude of buzzwords bandied about? Patch has the answers.

When it comes to following a green diet, there are several different aspects to consider. There’s your own health (and pocketbook), the ecological impact of growing and transporting food, and the waste generated from packaging. How does this translate to your own kitchen? We talked to local experts to tackle some frequently asked questions about green eating.

What does it mean to eat organic?

Officially, the USDA organic label means foods are produced without antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, irradiation or bioengineering.

Why should I eat organic?

“Eating organic foods reduce your exposure to chemicals, many which have been linked to everything from headaches, autoimmune diseases and cancer,” explains Betty Keller, M.D., of Optimum Wellness Center, an integrated health care center in Franklin Lakes. “Plus organic food is believed to have a better nutritional value, with more vitamins and antioxidants.”

It’s also better for the land—and those who work the land. Studies have linked pesticide use to Parkinson’s disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases. 

Is eating organic better for your health and your family?

Some people say yes, while hardcore evidence is still sketchy. The bottom line is, it couldn’t hurt to eat organic, and it probably can help, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is for you to actually eat your fruits and veggies.

Does organic food have more nutrients?

Sometimes, but not always. Some nutrients in food, such as resveratrol (the heart healthy component in red wine and blueberries), are part of the plants natural “immunity” against molds. Untreated plants have to build up their immune system to survive, and therefore have more of the nutrient. In fact, some reports estimate organic fruits and vegetables have 40 percent more antioxidants then conventional produce, and higher concentrations of important minerals such as zinc and iron.

What foods should I eat organic?

“Buying organic can get expensive,” admits Dr. Keller, who specializes in chronic disease prevention and natural healing. “That’s why it’s important to note that not all produce has the same chemical exposure.”

Foods that retain the most pesticides include carrots, celery, tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, spinach, kale and other leafy greens, as well as strawberries, blueberries, apples, pears, nectarines, peaches, cherries, and grapes, according to the FDA. 

“You can significantly reduce your exposure to chemicals, just by choosing organic for those foods,” Dr. Keller noted. 

And you can even grow some of them, like tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and leafy greens in your own backyard. (Unless of course, the rabbits get them first)

Foods that retain the least amount of pesticides (and can be enjoyed with less worry) include onions, avocados, corn, pineapple, mango, papaya, watermelon, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwi, cabbage and eggplant.

What about animal products? When is organic better and when is it just more expensive?

When it comes to milk, many experts advise opting for hormone-free and antibiotic free dairy products. For beef, hormones and pesticides build up in the fat, but not the actual meat. On the other hand, poultry is better organic: chickens are fed grains, which on traditional farms contain pesticides that can build up in the meat.

What’s the difference between organic chicken and free-range chicken?

The term free range often brings to mind chickens roaming free on a grassy pasture, but officially, “free range” means the chicken was not confined to a small coop, and it was given access to fresh air. Some people say free-range chicken tastes better, while for others, it’s a anti-animal cruelty karma-thing.

What about coffee? What does Fair Trade and Shade Grown mean?

Many coffee beans are grown in countries that do not regulate pesticides, have unfair labor practices or are harmful to the environment. In the green coffee world, “free trade” is a dirty word, synonymous with no guarantee of fair price and no ecological standards. The buzzword “Fair Trade” signifies cooperatives that work together to ensure fair pay, non-abusive labor practices and environmentally sustainable farming methods.  The term “shade grown” means the crop was grown under rainforest trees and no trees were cut down to farm.

More ways you can eat green:

  • Shop locally: Help the local economy, cut down on packaging and transportation. Frequent local farmer's markets (like Abma's Farm) or the one on Sunday mornings in Ridgewood.  Get involved in a garden co-op. 
  • Reuse shopping bags: Reduce waste by bringing your own shopping bags to the store. Feel guilty because you always forget? Ease your conscience by using paper bags (and reusing them to hold your paper recylcing or return your plastic shopping bags to the recycling bin at the grocery  store—our used bags are turned into long-lasting decking materials. 
  • Be mindful of packages. Less packaging, means less waste. And whenever possible, recycle the packaging.
  • Start a compost pile. Recycle kitchen scraps into fertilizer for your garden.

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