Find out why choosing organic and local foods is good for you and the environment, and when it is most important to choose organic. Identify which foods have the highest levels of pesticide residue and which are lower. Find out whether fresh, canned or frozen fruits and vegetables are the best choice for you.
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Eating with the Earth in Mind: Choose Local and Choose Organic
Last weekend was Earth Day, which meant there was lots of information being shared about how to make choices that support the environment, produce less waste, reduce energy consumption, reduce pollution and other related topic.
I wanted to add to some strategies you can use to support the environment as you make choices about what, where and how to eat.
When you choose local foods, you are reducing your environmental impact. Local food travels a shorter distance and tends to use less packaging. Think of how you buy lettuce or carrots at the farmers’ market compared to how much packaging you get when you buy the same produce that have travelled further to reach your grocery store.
Supporting local producers also helps to support the local economy and encourages local food producers who often have a challenging job. Getting to know the farmers in your area can help you learn about which foods grow best in your region, why some products are more common than others, and knowing your farmer means you can make requests for products you’d like to see being grown.
Another way you can choose local food is to join a CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) farm where you get to help grow the food too.
Growing your own fruits and vegetables lets you move “local” even closer to home. While we have a shorter growing season in part of Canada, we can still grow many fruits and vegetables outside during the summer months. In the winter, you can also move your garden inside. I love my Tower Garden because it allows me to grow greens, herbs and other vegetables inside, year-round. There’s nothing quite like picking lettuce while it snows outside.
When you choose organic foods, you are choosing foods that are grown with fewer pesticides and with more attention to the how food production affects the environment. If you can’t always buy organic foods, use the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists to help you make choices about what to buy organic.
The EWG (Environmental Working Group) releases lists of the “cleanest” and “dirtiest” fruits and vegetables each year. (Side note: they also have guides to the cleanest cosmetics and sunscreens.) These lists are called the Dirty Dozen & Clean 15 — and they are helpful tool to use when buying your fruits and veggies, especially if you are on a budget and you can’t afford to buy everything organic. These lists help you identify the most important foods to choose from the “organic” aisle, and which ones you can buy without the organic label.
The Dirty Dozen includes the fruits and vegetables that have the high levels of pesticides. Usually, these are foods where you eat the skins. Whenever possible, these are the foods you should focus on purchasing organic. When you consume fewer pesticides, you body has less work to do breaking down these toxins. There is also less risk of longterm effects of having these toxins in your body. Producing these foods can also contribute to air, soil and water pollution, which affects other plants, animals and insects (think about the bees), and continues to impact the environment long after the fruits and vegetables are harvested.
If you can’t access organic vegetables, you can grow your own or buy them from local producers when they are in season.
The 2019 “Dirty Dozen“:
The Clean 15 fruits and vegetables are the ones that have the lowest levels of pesticides. So you can skip the organic label on these to save money or to add more variety to your diet.
The 2019 Clean 15:
- Sweet corn
- Frozen sweet peas
- Honeydew Melon
The EWG also produce a longer ranking of almost 50 different fruits and vegetables, if you want to learn more. The rankings change from year to year, so you may want to download the EWG app – Apple and Android so you can check for updates.
Choose Fresh or Frozen
Ideally, we would all have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, every day of the year. But that isn’t possible for most of use.
Fresh Veggies and Fruit
Fresh veggies and fruit are indeed a prime choice, but not always — they can lose a lot of their nutrients before they’re consumed. Sometimes it takes up to two weeks for them to get to your table from the time they’re picked. In this time frame, they can lose up to 50% of their nutrients. One of the best ways to get the most nutrients from your fresh vegetables and fruit is by buying them locally and while they’re in season. Choose the freshest vegetables and fruit available to you for the best taste and most nutrition.
To keep the vegetables nutrient powers intact when you get them home, cook them for shorter times and at lower temperatures. If you use just a little water to reduce the loss of vitamin C and B vitamins. You can also take the cooking water and use it in soup or another part of your meal to get those vitamins. Steaming is a much better option than boiling because it tends to retain more nutrients. If you must boil your veggies, add them after the water begins to boil so they have less time to lose nutrients to the water.
Frozen Veggies and Fruit
Interestingly, frozen veggies and fruit tend to retain the highest proportion of nutrients. They are usually frozen right after harvesting to keep them fresh. They also tend to cost less than fresh produce because they don’t need as much care during travel to ensure they stay fresh and they look nice on the shelf. But beware, they may be processed with additives or be packaged with extra salt, sugar or sauces. Always read the labels to see what you’re getting, and look for brands that keep things as natural as possible.
You can freeze your fresh vegetables and fruit from your garden and from the farmers market, too. This will ensure nothing goes to waste and that you can enjoy them without losing vital nutrients. Frozen fruit is great for making smoothies, and you can add some frozen greens to your blender too.
Canned Veggies and Fruits
Canned vegetables tend to be more processed. Canned vegetables and fruit are handy to keep around, especially during the seasons of the year where you can’t access fresh vegetables and fruit, or you need to be prepared for bad weather that will keep you from the stores and may result in power outages. But convenience and long shelf life are their main benefits. Canned vegetables can are have less nutrition compared to fresh and frozen choices. They also tend to have way more sodium than fresh and frozen varieties. With canned vegetables, try to find options without added sodium to make a healthier choice, if you choose canned vegetables.
So, if you can get local fruit and vegetables that were just picked and didn’t need to travel very far, choosing fresh is great. If you need fruit and vegetables that will last longer or cost less, choose frozen rather than canned for more nutrients and fewer additives.
What is your favourite source of organic fruits and vegetables? How you do you like to eat them when you bring them home?