'Healthy Living for Summer': Eating organic

PHOTO: Fresh vegetables are visible on a cutting board in this stock photo.PlayHinterhaus Productions/Getty Images
WATCH Why eating and cooking organic can be beneficial to your health

Organic food can be more expensive at the grocery store but some experts say investing in your health is worth the cost. In the fifth episode of ABC News' "Healthy Living for Summer" series, we spoke with chef Tara Punzone from Real Food Daily, a Los Angeles-based organic restaurant.

But first, what does organic mean?

"The word 'organic' refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat," the nonprofit Mayo Clinic states on its website. Organic farming does not permit certain things, such as synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge as fertilizer, most synthetic pesticides, genetic engineering and antibiotics or growth hormones for livestock.

PHOTO: ABC News discusses organic eating and cooking with chef Tara Punzone. Galia Sotomayor/ABC News
ABC News discusses organic eating and cooking with chef Tara Punzone.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also sets specific standards for what is certified organic. Food that is organic will carry a USDA Organic seal.

Punzone said eating organic is better because "you're avoiding chemicals that they're spraying on foods and chemicals in soil and all kinds of pesticides, and things they have no idea what it does to your health."

"Research shows people have lower levels of pesticides when eating mostly organic," according to Karen Smith, senior manager of clinical dietetics at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. "But there is no research linking that to disease risk or disease incidence."

But she did point out that there appears to be a health correlation between pesticides and people working or living in areas with high exposure to them.

"People living in areas where they’re spraying fields with pesticides or working in areas with high pesticide exposures - there are studies showing higher rates of cancer or children having increased risks of birth defects and other diseases," Smith said.

PHOTO: ABC News discusses organic eating and cooking with chef Tara Punzone. Galia Sotomayor/ABC News
ABC News discusses organic eating and cooking with chef Tara Punzone.

Punzone warns consumers to avoid non-organic soy, corn and wheat.

"Those three things they're tying to turn out at mass production and speed, they're inundating these crops with all kinds of chemicals to grow faster and be edible faster and they're using these products in everything," she said.

Below is advice Punzone and experts gave ABC News.

Quick tips

  • Find out if your grocery store has an organic section

  • Shop around to compare prices between organic and non-organic items as they may be comparable at certain locations

  • Research what products have higher concentrations of pesticide residues if you need to be selective in your organic purchases

  • Look at the ingredients and check the labels

  • Avoid fake meat products with soy if it is non-organic

  • Eat organic tempeh, beans, nuts and seeds for protein – your body doesn't need as much energy to break down these foods

  • Stay educated and informed with nutrition facts and laws

  • PHOTO: ABC News discusses organic eating and cooking with chef Tara Punzone. Galia Sotomayor/ABC News
    ABC News discusses organic eating and cooking with chef Tara Punzone.

    While higher prices may hinder some consumers from buying organic, Punzone said organic vegetables and fruits are worth the cost because they have more nutrients and enzymes.

    "You [may be] saving money on non-organic now, but think about what will happen in the future [if you get] sick and you have issues to deal with," she said.

    Overall, if you can eat organic, "go for it, because we don’t know the potential risks associated with consuming foods high in pesticides and if you’re able to afford and have access to organic foods then I think that’s a great option, but it definitely isn’t the only option," Smith said.

    And just because a cookie is labeled organic, it doesn't mean it's healthy.

    "You have to weigh the risks versus the benefits," Smith said.

    Watch ABC News discuss organic foods in the video above.
    This weekly health series will continue throughout the summer.

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