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Beginner's Guide to Going Green, Part 1: Choose Organic Foods

By Kevin Thull, Green Promise
Updated 10/14/07 Digg this

choose organic foods

Choosing organic foods is a good first step in starting a green life. Green Promise highlights where to begin.
Pesticides...preservatives...genetically modified organisms. What food is safe to eat? Toxic chemicals...contaminated drinking water...mountainous landfills. How can any one person make a difference? The fact that you are reading this gives reason to hope. It is not easy converting to a green lifestyle, and it can be mind boggling to weigh the options and do all the research. Instead of throwing in the towel, consider some simple changes you can make to start making a difference.

In part one of a five-part series, we explain some reasons to think of organic food the next time you visit the grocery store. Not only will your body thank you, but the Earth will too.

Choose Organic Foods

Organic foods are better for you and they are better for the environment. Organic standards do not allow the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides in organic farming, whether for human consumption (think fruits and vegetables), textiles (think cotton) or animal feed (think open pastures, hay or grain). In addition, no hormones or antibiotics are allowed in the organic raising of livestock. And no genetically modified organisms (a.k.a. GMOs or "frankenfoods") are allowed in organic food production or in raising livestock. Processed organic foods also will be free from other harmful additives such as artificial sweeteners, colors and preservatives.

A body free of toxins is a healthy body indeed. Because our body doesn’t know what to do with toxins such as pesticides or other additives like preservatives, it goes into overdrive trying to eliminate them, putting excess strain on your liver. The body flushes what it can, overworking your kidneys. And what it can’t deal with is tucked away inside fat cells. Keep in mind this is an oversimplified explanation. Suffice it to say that all this overworking of the body and toxin storage takes place day after day unless you are consuming an organic diet. Just imagine the toll our daily food supply takes on the body of a small child.

Organic farming is based on sustainable practices, ensuring healthy soil using age-old methods of crop rotation, natural pest control, natural fertilizer and biodiversity. This is in stark contrast to factory farming, which relies on chemicals and genetic engineering to grow food. Overfarming and other non-sustainable agriculture depletes soil nutrients, causing a dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. These chemicals don’t just stay on the crops. Instead they are spread through the air, polluting neighboring farms and communities. They also leach into rivers, lakes and underground springs, polluting the water supply. Polluting air, soil and water puts the entire food chain at risk. Rather than turn back to sustainable farming practices, industrial agriculture turned to the labs instead, creating genetically modified foods to survive and thrive in unnatural growing conditions. What’s worse, the pollen from GMO crops can travel into and contaminate nearby organic crops.

Organic food is still limited in both availability and selection as compared to conventional food and it commands a higher price. To ease into an organic diet, start with some of the more toxic foods listed here and slowly convert as much as you can to organic.

To ease into an organic diet, start with some of the more toxic foods listed here and slowly convert as much as you can to organic.
Dairy. Conventional dairy is a triple threat. Chemical toxins (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) are concentrated in fat. Can you guess which dairy products are high in fat? If you said nearly all of them, you'd be right. Next is the rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) that the dairy industry is injecting in cows to boost production. And third are the antibiotics that are pumped into dairy cows to keep them from spreading illnesses in their tight confinement. If you are consuming dairy, organic is a must.

Produce. Some fruits and vegetables are more heavily sprayed than others making them a good place to start. Those with the highest levels of residual pesticides, according to the Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports): Apples, Apricots, Bell Peppers, Cantaloupe (grown in Mexico), Celery, Cherries (grown in U.S.), Cucumbers, Grapes (grown in Chile), Green Beans, Peaches, Pears, Potatoes (grown in U.S.), Spinach, Strawberries and Winter Squash (grown in U.S.). Keep in mind that each year the U.S. exports 100-150 million tons of pesticides that have been banned from use on our soil. Even though these pesticides are banned, we still produce them here for export. Ironically, there are no U.S. regulations that prevent importation of produce that has been treated with these same pesticides.

Processed Foods. Choosing organic foods in this category will save you from artificial colors, sweeteners, preservatives, GMOs and more. Here, the price gap between conventional and organic can be the smallest, making it is a good place to start.

Meats. This is where it gets really expensive and really difficult to find. Organic meats will spare you the same triple threat mentioned in the dairy category above. Organic fish is really a misnomer as there are no clear-cut standards.

Related articles:

Beginner's Guide to Going Green, Part 2: Reduce
Buyer Beware: Not All Organic Food Is Created Equal

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