Going Organic! (Not Just GFCFSF)
Having your child eat gluten-free/casein-free/soy-free (GFCFSF) is the first step in changing and improving your child’s diet. Going organic is another important steps toward better eating, improved digestion, and good health.
Organic foods are not sprayed with chemicals or preservatives, are not genetically modified, are raised humanely, are fed organically, and are easier for many children with autism to digest and absorb nutrients properly. More importantly, these foods do not contain nasty chemicals added during the growing/raising process. Organic meats are healthier because they do not include hormones, preservatives, or fillers that are also not good for our children’s sensitive digestive systems.
Certified organic foods cannot contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Very few studies have been done to evaluate the safety of GMOs. Nonetheless, GMOs are present in a wide variety of non-organic foods; check labeling or contact the manufacturer or seller for more information. Food labels that include information about genetically modified ingredients are not yet required in the U.S., so the only way to guarantee that you’re eating GMO-free foods is to look for the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) “100% Organic Certification” symbol. It is recommended that you and your family avoid GMO fruits, vegetables, and products from cloned animals (meat or milk from cloned cows, for example).
Buying organic food, however, often flies away from frugality. At the grocery store, I was previously able to get a dozen free eggs because of a price war with other stores, but in that same store, when I bought organic eggs, they cost $2.99 per dozen. I’ve started to explore other options, such as buying meat from a local farm that advertises antibiotic-free meat and considering joining food co-ops. (Co-ops are groups who use their bulk purchasing power to get lower prices.) Still, the prices for organic food are definitely higher than the prices I’m used to paying. More unfortunately, there are rarely any coupon opportunities for these organic products.
A cheaper option is to use your own backyard or patio to grow your own organic choices. You can try to grow as many fresh vegetables as you can eat, can, and freeze. Or create your own informal co-op with a few other families and purchase organic products and meats in bulk directly from farmers.
Another way to avoid expensive organic food sources is to hunt for local uncertified, organic fresh produce at local farmers’ markets. It is also worthwhile to check out roadside stands in areas known for agriculture production (California’s central valley and wine country are good examples, as are the fields of many Great Plains states, generally in the Midwest). Get to know the vendors and ask them about their products. Ask them if they raise/grow their products themselves and if the products are 100% organic (ask about what livestock is fed, making sure they do not receive antibiotics, hormones, and the like, and/or if there are any possibilities for soil contamination for produce, etc.). Many vendors at open markets are selling the same agribusiness produce you will find in stores, but some will be from small farms owned and operated by local growers who may participate in a co-op and who are raising their produce/animals organically simply because they are so small.
These shopping alternatives also can yield other nice pluses, such as a wider selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables and fresh eggs as well. The only drawback is that it is hard to find foods out of season, so you will need to have a lot of storage space to eat them year-round. For savings on grains, dried fruit, herbs and spices, and other items, I joined a food co-op. Some co-ops sell organic fresh produce, too. To find one, seach the web for local food co-ops in your area.
Organics: The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15
EWG's 2015 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ gives us the top 12 foods to avoid – The Dirty Dozen – and the Top 15 foods that are safe to buy conventionally grown – The Clean 15. Learn more about how EWG ranks these foods.
The Dirty Dozen These are the foods you want to buy organic whenever possible as they soak up the most pesticides.
- Sweet bell peppers
- Cherry tomatoes
- Snap peas - imported
- Hot Peppers +
- Kale / Collard greens +
The Clean 15 These are the foods that you can buy non-organic as they soak up the least amount of pesticides.
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet peas, frozen
- Sweet potatoes
Saving money on organic products
If your local supermarket carries organic products, it is a good idea to watch for sales. It is common to see organic products for the same price as the conventionally grown (with pesticides) products. Also, prices vary widely from store to store. Since not everyone has caught on to the organic movement, some grocery chains will move packaged organic options for a low price, if they are taking up valuable shelf space and are not moving off the shelf as fast as they could.
Some health food chains may offer better prices than local supermarkets, especially when items are on sale. Co-ops will also greatly cut your costs for buying healthy organic options.
Co-ops are groups who use their bulk purchasing power to get lower prices.
Health Food Store Finder
It is widely understood that organic options can cost 10-30% more than non-organic options. Rather than skimp on the organic options, consider saving money by purchasing items that don’t need to be organic – toilet paper, vinegar, baking soda to clean with – at typical chain stores. Then, go to the local health food stores or farmers’ markets to purchase organic veggies, fruits, and other products.
Buying organic helps ensure farm worker health, the health of your family, and the health of the environment. In the U.S., consumers have become so accustomed to cheaply priced and overly processed foods that it may take some serious rethinking to change longtime patterns and to do what is best for your family’s health, even if it costs more.
Kosher foods, especially around Jewish holidays, are also great alternative options that may be organic or pretty close to organic. If you can’t afford completely organic foods, look for foods with kosher labels. You can identify kosher foods by a “U” in a circle, or a “K” on the front of the label. The standards for truly kosher foods are much higher than the government standards allow on residues. Typically, kosher choices are not genetically engineered foods. However, always check the ingredients on the labels.
To better understand organic certifications and assist your decision process, visit the USDA’s website for information about the government’s criteria for certification of organic products. Organic certifications can be confusing, and the certification process, including definitions about what makes products truly organic (absolutely no chemicals used or just a few, such as antibiotics used only to ward off infections in livestock) is still debated. The certifications also vary based on each product’s labeling. Visit your local libraries or bookstores to find books about living and eating organically, or search for more information about organic certifications online.
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