Tonawanda News

August 1, 2013

NATURAL HEALTH: Tips for buying best produce

By Catherine Stack
The Tonawanda News

— Yes, buying organic is better when it comes to avoiding pesticides, but it’s not always necessary. Learning to read labels and identifying genetically modified foods will go a long way in promoting health and saving some cash.

First, let’s learn how to read produce labels. By learning these easy-to-remember tips, you will have the ability to identify organic produce, non-organic and/or genetically modified. Genetically modified foods have been banned in many countries and have no benefit to our health.

All produce will have a four- or five-digit code, as well as a barcode. If the produce has a four-digit code, it is conventionally grown but not organic. Sometimes this is just fine, but more on that later. 

If your produce has a five-digit code beginning with “9,” this identifies an organically grown product. Be wary of the number “8,” as this identifies genetically altered foods. Our bodies do not recognize genetically altered foods. These foods are making us sick more than they are helping us. This is a very hot topic in our country right now.

Buying organic is not always necessary if you know which foods tend to be clean or considered safe. The following is a list of “clean” choices that do not have to be bought organically: asparagus, avocado, cabbage, corn (non-GMO), eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mango, mushrooms, onion, papaya, sweet peas (frozen included) and sweet potatoes.

The following foods are best when bought organically. These include: apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, blueberries, grapes, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, sweet and hot peppers, kale and zucchini. These tend to be more contaminated during the growing process from the use of pesticides.

I’ll admit to eating non-organic local produce when in season. We have an amazing selection of local growers who know what they are doing and I don’t recommend avoiding the benefits just because they may not fall under the label of organic. By learning how to wash your produce, you will reduce your risk of exposure to pesticides.

What tools do you need? That’s easy — a soft veggie brush and water. Wash your produce before preparation, not when you purchase it. This will help prevent premature decomposition in the fridge.  There are some safe commercial veggies washes out there, but they tend not to be much better than good old water.

Cook’s Illustrated magazine conducted a study on cleaning apples and pears. Soap, vinegar, a scrub brush and water were used. Soap was not recommended, as a residue was left — so don’t use soap. They concluded that scrub brushing with just water removed 85 percent of the bacteria.  Even more impressive was a 98 percent reduction of bacteria when vinegar and water were used. The dilution was three parts water to one part vinegar (white or apple cider vinegar). Five minutes appeared to be all that was needed.

Peel your cucumbers! A huge pet peeve of mine is going out to eat, having a beautiful salad served, and the cucumbers are not peeled. This easy step makes a huge difference to those who are food-conscious.  

Hopefully now, you can shop with greater ease and not deprive yourself the abundance of produce available to you.

Catherine Stack is a doctor of naturopathy and a certified nurse midwife. Her practice is located at Journey II Health in Niagara Falls. She can be reached at 298-8603 or at her website at