By Maria Ivanov
The best approach to fitness is an integrated one that addresses a variety of goals. But even the most well-designed program can’t work miracles alone. Workouts need to go hand-in-hand with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. This brings us to the question of organic foods: Are they worth the effort required to eat them regularly? It’s tough to decide until you separate the facts from the myths.
- Organic food is more nutritious.
- Organic produce is always pesticide-free.
- Organic and natural mean the same thing.
Just the Facts
There is almost no evidence that organic produce contains more nutrients. An orange is an orange is an orange. What matters when determining nutritional value is the type of produce. Certain vegetables just have more nutritional clout: broccoli, kale, carrots, tomatoes and Brussels sprouts among them.
Organic meat and eggs are sometimes higher in omega-3 fatty acids because the animals are usually grain or grass-fed.
And while organic farming bans most pesticides, certain pesticides are allowed in certain situations. And some conventionally grown produce is naturally low in pesticides. From the consumer’s viewpoint, avoiding pesticidesdepends in part on how you shop.If you really want vegetables without pesticides, it’s best to start your own garden and grow them yourself. By planting strategically, or companion planting, you can control garden pests without using chemicals.
So why spend the extra money on organics? One argument is that they’re better for the environment because of the vast amount of chemicals used in conventional farming. On the one hand, this is a fact. The absence of pesticides in organic farming means it’s better for the soil, water, and wildlife. But when it comes to a choice between inorganic produce sold at the farm stand down the road or organic produce wrapped in plastic and trucked in from California, the best environmental choice becomes far less clear.
Given the choice, most environmentalists prefer to buy locally. The products are fresher, and because of that, often more nutritious. Besides, a local farmer is a wealth of information. Most are eager to tell you how he or she cooks that new vegetable or which variety of apple works best when baked.
Fortunately, most small, local farmers are organic, which brings us to three final facts about organic food:
- Buying organic supports small farmers because they can earn more money from this type of produce.
- Buying organic also tends to support greater biodiversity than factory farming because these smaller farmers work differently. Instead of genetically modified, you get heirlooms. Instead of the varieties that are thick-skinned and easy to ship long distances, you get the rare and the tasty.
- “Natural” and “organic” are not interchangeable terms. Natural just means it contains no preservatives or artificial flavoring. It does not mean the product is organic.
The question of whether all organic produce tastes better than traditionally raised fruits and vegetables is far from a slam-dunk. By definition, taste is subjective. The first time my family ate locally grown organic broccoli, we practically swooned. The broccoli was so rich and buttery, it tasted like asparagus. But not everybody wants their broccoli to taste like asparagus. The choice is up to you. Healthful and tasty eating, like working out, is one of life’s simple pleasures. Enjoy.
Maria Ivanov is a fitness trainer with a passion for foods — the healthier, the better. With the help of her children, she grows her own vegetables, herbs, and as many fruit trees as she can on a half-acre plot.