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ORGANIC FOODS: You are what you eat

Organic food is one of the fastest-growing areas in the food industry, even with the rising cost of grocery items and tougher economic times. Most people are familiar with the term organic and are aware that organic farming produces crops and raises animals without the use of chemicals such as synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, hormones and artificial additives. Environmental concerns, health and your food budget determine which organic products make sense for you to buy.

It is said that organic food is richer in vitamins, minerals and fiber and retains these nutrients longer than non-organic food. In addition, many people claim that organically grown fruits, vegetables and meat taste better than their conventionally grown counterparts.

Even though both these statements are debatable among researchers, scientists, farmers, food producers and the public, the one thing everyone agrees on is that pesticide residues are much lower in organic foods than conventionally grown ones.

Here are some facts I found during my research. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., has developed a list of the 12 most important foods to buy organic. Known as the “Dirty Dozen,” these 12 fruits and vegetables have been found to be the most contaminated with pesticide residue. Most are either thin-skinned or have no skin and are eaten whole or with the skin on.

The dirty dozen includes peaches, strawberries, apples, spinach, nectarines, celery, pears, cherries, potatoes, sweet bell peppers, raspberries and grapes (imported). If you eat these on a regular basis, you could be exposing yourself to as many as 20 different pesticides a day.

The EWG and USDA also have a list of the 12 least contaminated fruits and vegetables. The list includes sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cauliflower, mangos, sweet peas, asparagus, onions, broccoli, bananas, kiwis and papayas. Most of these fruits and vegetables have thick skins or natural casings that we don’t eat. This skin protects them from sprayed pesticides.

It is important to wash and peel, when appropriate, your fruits and vegetables to help remove residual pesticides. However, the USDA has found that even after you wash certain fruits and vegetables, they still contain much higher levels of pesticide residue than others do. This includes apples, berries, grapes, spinach and potatoes (dirty dozen). On the other hand, that is not true for bananas, mangos or corn.

Besides fruits and vegetables, there are other types of organic foods available such as dried legumes, grains, meat and meat products, dairy foods, eggs, honey and some processed foods. When selecting organic food, look for a tag that says “certified organically grown.” A farmer’s crop cannot be labeled organically grown until the land has been free of chemicals for 36 months.

If the label reads “100% Organic,” the product must contain 100 percent organic ingredients. “Organic” means at least 95 percent of the ingredients are organically produced. “Made with organic ingredients” means 70 percent of the ingredients are organic and the remaining 30 percent are from the USDA’s approved list. “Natural” or “All Natural” does not mean organic and usually refers to poultry or meat products raised without hormones or artificial additives.

A good way to start working organics into your budget is to begin with one or two key foods you eat frequently, like milk or eggs. Most supermarkets and specialty stores offer their own organic private-label food lines. By buying their private label, you may be able to save as much as 20 percent, possibly more.

Whether you grow your own organic garden, support the local farmer’s market, or buy fruit and vegetables from the organic section at the grocery store, you can feel better knowing that organic food is a healthy, humane, environmentally-friendly way to go.

Morning Glory Muffins

q 1-1/4 cups brown sugar, packed

q 2 cups flour

q 2 teaspoons cinnamon

q 2 teaspoons baking soda

q 1/2 teaspoon salt

q 3 eggs, organic

q 1 cup vegetable oil (I use canola)

q 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

q 1/2 cup flaked coconut

q 1/2 cup seedless raisins (I use golden)

q 2 cups grated organic carrots

q 1 cup grated organic apples

q 1/2 cup chopped nuts, your favorite

n Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

n Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

n Add the eggs, oil and vanilla; mix well.

n Stir in the coconut, raisins, carrots, apples and nuts. n Spoon the mixture into paper lined muffin cups.

n Bake 15 to 20 minutes.

n Makes 2 dozen.

n Substitute – 8 ounce can drained crushed pineapple for the grated apple. This is a family recipe from Jane, my mom-in-law.

Glazed Carrots

q 1 pound medium organic carrots

q 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

q 2 tablespoons butter or margarine

q 1/2 cup minced organic onion

q 1-1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

q 2/3 cup organic apple juice

q 1/4 teaspoon pepper

n Cut the carrots diagonally into 1/4–inch thick slices.

n Place in saucepan, cook in boiling water to cover with 1/2 teaspoon salt for 5 minutes or until crisp-tender.

n Drain and rinse with cold water.

n Pat the carrots dry with paper towels.

n Melt the butter in a large skillet over low heat; add the onion and cook, stirring constantly, 10 minutes.

n Add the brown sugar; cook, stirring constantly, 5 minutes.

n Add the apple juice; cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes.

n Stir in the carrots, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Heat through.

n Serves 6

— Southern Living

Stuffed Pepper Cups

q 6 medium organic green peppers, top cut off, seeds and membrane removed

q 1 pound ground beef

q 1/3 cup chopped organic onion

q 1/2 teaspoon salt

q Dash of pepper

q 1 1-pound can tomatoes, Muir Glen Organic

q 1/2 cup water

q 1/2 cup uncooked long grain rice

q 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

q 1 small can of tomato sauce

n Precook the prepared green pepper cups in boiling salted water for about 5 minutes; drain.

n Sprinkle the inside of the cups lightly with salt. Cook the ground beef and onion until the meat is lightly browned.

n Season the mixture with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a dash of pepper.

n Add the 1 pound can of tomatoes, 1/2 cup of water, 1/2 cup uncooked long-grain rice and 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce.

n Cover and simmer until the rice is tender about 15 minutes.

n Stir in 4 ounces shredded American cheese. Stuff the peppers with the mixture; stand the peppers upright in the baking dish.

n Pour the tomato sauce over the top of each pepper.

n Bake uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes.

— Better Homes & Gardens

Diann Greene, whose column appears weekly in Accent, can be reached by e-mail at