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Understanding the Market

How to shop for organic groceries (or not)

Organic groceries are so damn expensive. And here’s the kicker: buying organic doesn’t even guarantee you’re getting the healthiest option for your family. Often there are considerations equally important to the hallowed “certified organic” stamp. To help us better understand what we should be looking for as we make our way through the supermarket aisles, Simply Beautiful Mom nutritionist Hillary Baron Irwin gave us some helpful tips on health-conscious shopping for staples.

Chicken and beef. Seek out free-range chicken and grass-fed (or pasture-fed) beef. Meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs that are certified organic are not medicated with antibiotics or steroid hormones, and have indeed been fed certified organic food. However that statement does not tell us specifically what they have been fed (corn? grass? grains?). When cows and chickens are allowed to eat their natural diet, their eggs, milk and meat tend to be richer in nutrients and typically have higher levels of omega-3 (and fewer omega-6) acids, which helps improve our omega 3/6 balance. Free-range, pasture-fed animals are typically treated more humanely and taste better, too.

Soy products. Look for “non-GMO” on the label. Genetically modified foods are on the rise. Also known as genetically modified organisms (GMO), these foods are created by changing the DNA of a plant’s seeds (genetically modifying the seed). It’s typically done to increase a plant’s ability to fend off bugs or to increase a crop’s production. However, the new genes of a genetically modified plant create a new protein that the human digestive tract has never seen before. Some studies suggest that the human body may have trouble digesting these new proteins, and that this may in fact increase the incidence of soy allergies.

Pasta. Unless your child has a gluten allergy, you do not need to stock up on gluten-free pasta. (Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat; it is not bad for you unless you have a gluten allergy or intolerance). Instead, look for whole grain pasta with at least 4 grams of fiber per serving. One of my favorites is Barilla Plus, which contains 4 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein per servings, versus the 2 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein found in regular white pasta.

Peanut butter. Read the ingredients. Even some organic brands contain added sugar and hydrogenated fats; your peanut butter should contain only peanuts—and maybe some salt, but that is it!

Cereal. Just because a cereal is labeled organic does not mean it is more nutritious. Many brands are not as healthy as their names suggest. Often, they are loaded with extra sugar: “evaporated cane juice” is still SUGAR. For example, Barbara’s Shredded Oats contain 12 grams of sugar per serving—more than Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes! On the contrary, Post Shredded Wheat n’ Bran contains no added ingredients—just 100 percent whole wheat and wheat bran (and less than 1 gram of sugar). Top with fresh fruit and enjoy.

Yogurt. Organic yogurts do not use any artificial sweeteners. Therefore, the flavored versions typically have a lot of added sugar. Your best bet is to buy plain yogurt and flavor it yourself with cinnamon or fresh fruit or defrosted frozen fruit or wheat germ or nuts . . . .