Going green: Putting a price on your health

Eating green doesn't have to mean going into the red. It's a balancing act, and knowing when to buy organic, and when it really does
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

Eating green doesn't have to mean going into the red. It's a balancing act, and knowing when to buy organic, and when it really doesn't matter, is key to greening your body and your wallet, according to food and consumer experts.

To complicate matters, food prices are soaring ingeneral, making it even more intimidating for consumers to buy organic, which is typically more expensive.

Food prices were up 4.6 percent between February 2007 and February 2008, with milk up 16.8 percent and eggs up a 25.3 percent, per U.S.Consumer Reports.

Research funded by the U.S.Department of Agriculture also found that the price of calorie-dense food was less likely to rise as a result of inflation. During the two-year study, the price of high-calorie food decreased by 1.8 percent, whereas the price of low-calorie foods increased by 19.5 percent.

Tom Jenkins, owner of the Health Plus Natural Foods, 1212 Hull Road, said buying organic and not going broke is about smart shopping.

Don't just throw anything in your cart that says "organic" or "natural," he said. His store celebrated its 25thanniversary this yearwith him asowner for 15 years.

Jenkins said fruits with hardy protective skins, such as bananas, are an example of when not to buy organic. The skin protects the fruit from pesticides.

Jenkins specializes in natural and organic food, and has increased his organic offerings three to four times in the past 15 years because of the demand. It's not to the point where the majority of consumers are buying organic almonds for $12 per pound compared to regular for $6 per pound, but he's seeing more and more organic-seeking shoppers who want to help themselves and their planet.

"Average people are starting to come in," Jenkins said. "We do get a lot of older people, who just come in forsupplements, and younger people with children."

Don't be fooled by the word "natural" either, he said. A natural product could still have artificial ingredients in it. For example, natural grape juice could be labeled that because grapes are all natural.

"Be careful with that," Jenkins said. "Read the label."

Organic means grown without pesticides and fertilizers, and in most cases is certified. Some products are organic, but not certified because of the long process, he said.

The Environmental Working Group, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organic research group, lists food that are worth the price and those that aren't.

The group advises it's worth paying more for organic versions of some fruits and vegetables that retainpesticide residue even after washing, and those include peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries and cherries.

Don't pay more for fruits andvegetables with thicker skins that have less pesticide residue, the group said. Skipping the organic onions,avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mango, sweet peas, kiwi, bananas, cabbage and papaya are OK. But it is worth it to buy organic protein-rich foods, such as meats, poultry, eggs and dairy because they are free of pesticides, synthetic growth hormones and antibiotics.

Consumer Reports also suggests not wasting money on highly processed organics like breads, oils, potato chips, cereals and canned fruit or vegetables because the health benefit is mostly gone because of the processing.

Barbara Flack runs the Hallelujah Diet class at the Sandusky Community Church of the Nazarene, where her husband is the pastor.

"We teach people to go 80 percent raw; 20 percent cooked and to do as much organic as you can," Flack said.

She's partnered with a Tiffin farm to offer organic produce like lettuce, summer squash, sugar snapped peas and cucumbers to her students, who buy a share or an half-share upfront.

The nine-week class is every Tuesday 6:30 - 8:30 p.m., and iscontinuing through July because the students enjoy it so much. The next class will start in September. Call 419-625-1129. The fee is $99 and includes books.

"A lady has lost 17 pounds since she started; one of the men who went back into his doctor's, doesn't have diabetes anymore," Flack said.

Craig Minowa, environmental scientist for the Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association, said eating organic food reduces the amount of pesticides in the body. Pesticides can have varying effects on health, including neurological, and some contain carcinogens.

"Switching to an organic diet is like quitting smoking" he said.