Avocado half with herb thyme on a wooden rustic boardWith so many different labels popping up on products and the need to purchase healthy food, how can a consumer make the best food choices?

In 2013, the USDA National Organic Program suspended the Organic Food Production Act’s sunset provision. This changed the way the National Organic Standards Board conducts its 5-year review of national list substances and makes it easier to renew an exemption for a non-organic food substance.

While this was disappointing news for many consumers, foods that comply with the USDA organic standards are still better than conventionally grown and produced foods. Some labels, such as the “100% natural” label, can mislead. Consumer Reports recently reported that more than 60 percent of people surveyed believed that “Natural” means “No GMOs.” But Consumer Reports tested foods labeled “natural” and found some of these foods contained a substantial amount of GMOs. The “natural” label does not mean it is non-GMO or that it is a healthy food choice. The fact is, American food manufactures are not required by law to list GMO ingredients on food labels. The best way to ensure you are purchasing non-GMO foods is to look for the non-GMO Project Verified Seal. 


Read the labels! Educating yourself on food ingredients can help you decipher food labels to make the best food choices. Foods containing several unrecognizable hard to pronounce ingredients, although labeled organic or 100% natural, might be products to avoid. 


Certain groups help educate everyone on food health. One such organization is The Environmental Working Group. It developed the Dirty Dozen PLUS™ and Clean Fifteen™ lists to make consumers aware of the pesticides used on foods. The Dirty Dozen PLUS™ lists the 12 fruits/vegetables with the most pesticides.  The Clean Fifteen™ represents 15 produce items with the least amount of pesticides. For more information, visit www.ewg.org. 

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Dirty Dozen

  1. Apples
  2. Strawberries
  3. Grapes
  4. Celery
  5. Peaches
  6. Spinach
  7. Sweet bell peppers
  8. Nectarines
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry tomatoes
  11. Snap peas
  12. Potatoes


Clean Fifteen

  1. Avocado
  2. Corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Cabbage
  5. Sweet peas (frozen)
  6. Onions
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mango
  9. Papaya
  10. Kiwi 
  11. Eggplant
  12. Grapefruit
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Sweet potatoes


Another education group is The Non-GMO Project.  It is committed to preserving and building the non-GMO food supply and providing verified non-GMO choices. It is the organization responsible for the Non-GMO seal. You can learn more about GMO-modified food and find a directory of products carrying the seal by visiting www.nongmoproject.org. 


Learn the source of your food by getting to know your local farmers. Many small famers use organic gardening practices but do not want to invest the money required to carry the USDA certified organic label. Ask the farmer if he uses organic farming practices. 

It’s easy to locate locally grown foods. Join a CSA (community supported agriculture), and/or farmer’s co-op. Localharvest.org is a great resource to search for local farmer’s markets and CSA groups in your area. You may discover farms that let you “pick your own” produce, an exciting adventure for children. Eating locally grown foods insures your produce is fresh and healthy. 


If you don’t have a green thumb, just start small. Plant a small fresh herb garden. Herbs are easy and fun to grown and require little maintenance. You will gain confidence to expand to growing naturally produced vegetables.  Burpees and Seeds of Change are two companies who will supply you with non-GMO, organic seeds . You can pick fresh produce from your garden, rinse it, and eat it. Freshly picked food has a higher nutrient level and often tastes better than foods held to ripen.  

Helpful Resources:

By Christina Leidenheimer, CPT, CHLC, CPI

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