Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Dirty Dozen

When is organic produce worth the added cost, and when should you save some cash and go with conventional varieties? Check out which foods you should try to buy organic to reduce your pesticide exposure by 90%. 

Also, children are far more susceptible to chemicals and pollutants than adults and the increased rate of childhood illnesses is cause for alarm.  Children also absorb greater concentrations of pesticides (poisons) per pound of body weight through inhalation, ingestion and contact with the skin. 

A recent article I received from Spark People reminded me of the Dirty Dozen. In case you don't know what they are, they are the 12 foods that you should always try to buy organic.  I try to follow this, especially since Mason eats alot of fruits. 

1. Apples
Pick organic apples when they're at their peak, usually during the fall. You can get organic apples year-round in the supermarket. They should be firm and free of wrinkles or bruises. Store them in the fridge if you don't plan on eating them within a week; otherwise, keep them in a bowl on the countertop. Full of fiber, these fruits are a great portable snack. Carry one in your bag to ward off hunger—or serve them alongside lean pork or chicken.      

2. Celery
Organic celery spruces up savory dishes, from Thanksgiving stuffing to vegetable soup. Celery sticks taste great stuffed with natural peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese. Chock full of fiber and available year-round, add some to your favorite salsa—or use it to scoop up a low-fat tuna or chicken salad. Keep celery refrigerated in the coldest section of the fridge, and it will last for weeks.      

Organic bell peppers are packed full of flavor and antioxidants. With red, orange, yellow, green and even purple varieties, they're a crunchy and low calorie snack. Rich in Vitamin C, chop peppers into salads, roast and toss in pasta sauce and hummus, or stuff with beans, rice, or lean ground meat. Look for firm, wrinkle-free peppers, and be sure to store them in the refrigerator.

4. Peaches
For peak flavor, buy organic peaches in season (during the summer). Store peaches on the counter until they're ripe, then refrigerate until ready to use. Look for taut skin, with no bruises or wrinkles. They should be firm to the touch but give a little when gently squeezed. Eat on their own, or make pies, crumbles or cobblers. Slice a ripe peach over your morning oatmeal or layer with yogurt and granola.

5. Strawberries
Strawberries are the most popular berry in America, and for good reason: They're sweet, delicious and a great source of Vitamin C and fiber. Organic strawberries are in season during the summer. The ones you find in the supermarket in winter likely will be flavorless and hard—buy frozen or stock up during the summer. To lengthen the life of berries, don't wash them until ready to eat. Store in a single layer on baking sheet covered in a damp dish towel. While strawberries reign supreme in desserts, these berries are also great in a salad (mix greens with feta or goat cheese, a handful of your favorite nuts, a few chopped strawberries and toss with a balsamic vinaigrette!) and fabulous in a salsa.      

6. Nectarines
Nectarines, a close (but fuzz-free) relative of the peach, are available the same time of year—from May through September, with a peak in July and August. Choose firm, wrinkle-free fruit, then allow to ripen on the countertop. Organic nectarines are delicious on their own, or try adding them to a barbecue sauce or grilling them alongside some chicken breasts.      

7. Imported Grapes
Who doesn't sneak a grape or two from the display at the supermarket? Make sure you're getting organic grapes if they're from overseas, or you'll get a mouthful of chemicals in each bite! Grapes are available year-round. Wash them when you get home, then store them in the fridge for up to two weeks. Freeze clean grapes for a fat-free treat (dip them in melted chocolate to be decadent!), or eat them by the handful when you're on the go.

8. Spinach
Looking for a great source of iron? What about potassium, calcium and beta-carotene? ALL of these nutrients can be found in spinach!

There are only so many spinach salads you can eat in a week and only so many sandwiches to add it to. Try mixing it into soups or stews. Stir it into pastas, including lasagna. Sautéed spinach is also quite delicious, especially with some olive oil and garlic. Experiment and enjoy! Enjoy those dark, leafy greens that are packed with a nutritional punch.      

9. Lettuce
What's better than a refreshing salad or a crisp leaf of lettuce on your sandwich? Choose organic lettuces to decrease your pesticide exposure and make your salads even healthier! Lettuce is low in calories and can help keep you full thanks to its fiber and water content.      

10. Cucumbers
Cucumber adds a satisfying, hydrating crunch to any dish you serve it in. It's also a great source of vitamin K and has anti-inflammatory properties. Choose smooth, firm cucumbers, and make sure they are not bruised.

To prepare, try tossing chopped cucumber into pasta salads, or stacking cucumber slices on a sandwich. The cooling properties of cucumber also make it an excellent accompaniment to a spicy meal.

11. Domestic Blueberries
Blueberries are small and mighty, known for their anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

Look for fresh blueberries that are firm, dry, plump and smooth. They should be deep purple-blue or blue-black in color (reddish-colored berries aren't ripe but may be used for cooking). Stay away from containers that are stained with juice, as this may be a sign that the berries are overripe, crushed or moldy.

While blueberries can be eaten raw, they are often cooked in pies, pancakes and muffins. Add a few fresh blueberries to yogurt or cereal, cook them into a sweet syrup for topping ice cream, waffles or pancakes, or try a new blueberry recipe.

Potatoes can be a great source of carbohydrates and nutrients, including vitamins C, B-6, and folate and fiber (4 grams when you eat the skin).

To enjoy your potatoes in a healthy way, cut them into 1-inch thick slices, season with garlic, herbs and pepper and bake in the oven until soft and golden brown.   

Chasing Tiny Feet

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