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Ask the Doctor: Natural, Organic, Local or Conventional?

Learn about the different types of food you can purchase at local grocery stores or markets.

This week focuses on a question I hear often:

What's the difference between natural and organic? Is buying local better?

This can be a tough one to sort out when you walk into any grocery store today. Natural is a nice sounding word, but it's very deceptive. Organic just sounds expensive. Local means you're supporting local farmers, which is a great thing. Conventional means something you're used to having. 

Let's break it down a little.

Conventional foods

Conventional means that your produce was grown using conventional and traditional farming methods - typical herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers that farmers have been using for a long time. Conventional may also mean the use of genetically modified seeds and plants. Here's a short article to read to learn more about GMOs.

'Buy local'

Local means exactly what it says - the food or ingredients were grown locally by a local farmer. Sometimes local may not mean Michigan, but maybe Ohio or Indiana. Nevertheless, it doesn't travel very far to get to you.

Buying local has a lot of really great benefits - the produce is usually more fresh, therefore better nutritionally, and there is less of an environmental impact because it traveled a shorter distance to get to you. So instead of buying apples from Washington this fall, buying apples from local farms is a better option. You also support your local economy this way. 

The one downfall with buying local is the foods are not necessarily organic. So while it may be more fresh, it may be loaded with chemicals and pesticides. It's always a good idea to ask the farmer at local farmers markets ) if their produce is grown organically. Local and organic is the best combination!

Natural foods

Natural means nothing, really. 'Natural' flavorings are all over the place on ingredient lists, but it's so vague and abstract. The USDA does not have strict restrictions on what 'natural' means, so use caution when purchasing products that read 'natural' on the package. I read labels a lot, and sometimes they are fairly deceptive.

Organic foods

Organic produce, dairy, and organically raised meat are probably the healthiest way to go. This means there were not any herbicides, pesticides, or weird chemical fertilizers used. In terms of dairy and meat, this means no growth hormones or antibiotics were pumped into the animals. If we eat an animal that was pumped full of these chemicals, we get some of the consequences of it.

Organic foods are usually more expensive, granted. However, some prices are very comparable to some of the brand names you'll see at Kroger and other grocery stores. Organic produce is also more nutritional - this is because when plants have bugs or diseases they have to fight off (and they successfully do that), then they get stronger, much like humans in that regard. They usually have more antioxidants and phytonutrients, wihch we get the benefit of when we eat them. 

Some produce and meat I recommend you only buy organic of. With my husband and I, we always buy organic meat and dairy without the hormones and antibiotics. Some fruits and veggies I will also only buy organic of because the conventional can be hard to clean. Here are two good articles with a list of some fruits and veggies that are best bought organic. Picky Cook. Green Living.

Thanks for reading, and if you have a question you'd like featured here next week, please email me directly at QureshiDC@gmail.com.

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