Is it me or has growing and shopping for vegetables become a lot more complicated these days? We’re bombarded with terms like sustainable, non-GMO and organic. We’re told that our food was grown locally and is hormone free. I used to enjoy a simple salad as part of my daily dinner but now I stare at my plate each night and wonder exactly what I may be eating. I’ve finally come to the realization that the time has come to learn the lingo and find out once and for all what’s in my salad.

The first thing I found out is that the word sustainable can mean many different things. For some people it means not wasting things or having a minimal impact on the environment. For other people it means that you are supporting local growers and providers. There is no universal definition of the term sustainable and it is really a marketing strategy to make us feel that we are being environmentally responsible.

When you hear the term “local” used in reference to the lettuce in your salad do you know what that means? When attached to our food the definition of local means within 400 miles of its origin. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t really meet my definition of what is local. Research shows that many of the benefits of fruits and vegetables begin to be compromised soon after they are harvested so if you want to maximize the benefits of locally grown produce your best bet is to shop at farmers markets rather than supermarkets. Many of these fruits and vegetables were picked less than 24 hours before they are being sold to you and the only way to get fresher than that would be to grow them yourself.

The USDA has indicated that the demand for organic food has more than doubled in the last decade. Many people believe that food that is organic hasn’t been grown using pesticides and that is not quite true. Organic means that the food was grown on land that has not been treated by substances prohibited by the USDA for at least 3 years but organic pesticides can still be used on these farms. It is also interesting to note that the USDA will allow companies to use the word organic in their brand name even if they sell non-organic foods. I’ll leave it up to you to consider the logic of that statement. Truly organic food must carry a seal that states that it is USDA organic.

Studies show that organically grown food has about 1/3 of the pesticide residue that non-organic food has. Keep in mind that 90% of pesticide residue is found on the skin or peel of the produce you are eating so if you remove those items you’re probably getting the same benefits from non-organically grown produce as you do with organically grown produce.  While we all may think that organic means it is better for you there still needs to be more research done to support this assertion. Organic tomatoes seem to have the same health benefits that non-organic tomatoes have.  Again, this is a topic that we all need to continue to monitor.

Finally, the term GMO has been getting a lot more attention in recent years as manufacturers attempt to produce seed that can feed more people by making the seed more disease and insect resistant which theoretically should enable it to produce higher yields. GMO stands for genetically-modified organism and we’ve all more than likely ingested fruits and vegetables that are GMO. Corn, squash, zucchini and sugar beets are often GMO and if you’ve ever had a tangelo, a tangerine and grapefruit hybrid, than you’ve eaten GMO engineered fruit. GMO foods have also been produced to allow food to stay fresh longer and to increase vitamins and the antioxidant benefits of these fruits and vegetables. The truth is that GMO technology can’t simply be categorized as “good” or “bad”. There do not appear to be health hazards to human beings but some GMO foods do negatively impact pollinators like bees and GMO corn has been found to be toxic to monarch butterflies. The good news is you can avoid GMO foods by looking for seals that indicate the food is verified as organic and/or non-GMO.

I can tell you that researching this article has been a real eye-opener for me and I hope that it helps you to better understand “what’s in your salad”.

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