There are a few pieces of advice that nutritionists will offer on the regular. Make sure to get your leafy greens in, for starters. Drink eight glasses of water a day. And increasingly as of late, eat organic. All organic, all the time. We’ve all been there. Scene: your grocery store. Standing in front of a tall wall of produce, you see two drastically different price tags for green peppers to the right versus green peppers to the left. That’s because the costlier peppers are, indeed, organic. But what’s that really mean?
What Does It Really Mean To Eat Organic?
“No synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, synthetic pesticides, irradiation, GMO, or antibiotics/growth hormones can be used on organic foods,” says dietitian Monica Auslander, MS, RD, LD/N. This applies to everything from veggies to meats. ”Something labeled ‘organic’ actually means that 95 percent of the ingredients inside are organic, excluding salt and water.”
Simply put, organic foods are much less exposed to chemicals. So if you eat organic, so are you. Organics have lower pesticide levels, lower heavy metal absorption (like cadmium), and lower amounts of potential endocrine disruptors, says Auslander. Important, since exposure to chemicals can impact everything from nausea and diarrhea to prenatal issues. And although there’s definitely room for more research, some studies also suggest that eating organic may be more nutritious.
In translation: yes, eating all organic is good. So, I decided to go for it and tweak my diet to the O side. Would I feel any different if I decided to make the switch, aside from a whack to my wallet? There was only one way to find out. The task: Eat organic and nothing but organic for one week, no exceptions.
Here are the six lessons I learned:
1. ‘Health’ food is not always organic.
My biggest goal of this entire experiment was not to lean into strict salads the entire time. So, I went to Whole Foods (like anyone with some sort of dietary restriction) to find myself some goodies. I learned quickly that it was much easier to navigate the produce section where everything is clearly labeled “organic,” versus not, versus the aisles with pre-packaged goods. I had a tough time finding good-for-the-program staples like peanut butter, jelly, bread, and marinades.
“The most important thing to do is check labels at the supermarket, looking for the ‘certified organic’ label,” says Lyuda Bouzinova, co-founder of Mission Lean and ACE-certified nutrition specialist. “If you pick something up that doesn’t explicitly say ‘certified organic,’ then you can safely assume it’s not. Another trick is to look out for PLU codes that start with the number 9.”
Moral of the story: this particular grocery trip took about three times as long as possible. Convenient? Not exactly. But hey! My health, I thought. So I kept my eye on the prize.
2. To eat organic, you’ve gotta eat produce fast.
Because the fruits and vegetables you’re eating are super fresh and free from pesticides, they typically spoil faster. My trick? Freezing a lot of my favorites. I froze strawberries, bananas, and blueberries for smoothie and oatmeal mix-ins, and chopped vegetables like zucchini, snap peas, carrots, and onions for stir-frys. I found that non-frozen produce had a shelf life of maybe three days, tops.
3. Eating out is hard…
It’s really hard to eat out. When you’re on the run early in the morning, it’s hard to pack ahead and plan lunch. I quickly leaned into the offerings from Juice Press on busy days. Their jars (my go-tos were the Asian-style noodles and Mexican fiesta) had more flavor than anything else I consumed during my experiment, and I actually felt full straight from lunch until dinner.
OK, so eating out for lunch, obtainable. But dinners? Very few restaurants in the city I live in offer a for-sure organic menu. And even some of the more popular “healthy” spots didn’t have organic eats on the menu (often when I asked, it was as if I was making some crazy request for inquiring). On one of the two occasions, I ended up catching up with a girlfriend over sparkling water (I wish I was kidding) and then eating dinner once I got back home.
4. My digestion kicked into gear.
Not to be TMI, but everything felt super regular while eating organic. I attribute this to two things: First, that I definitely upped my intake of leafy greens and high-fiber foods. And, second: I drank more water. Since I didn’t want to fill my days (or my stomach) with organic fruit and nut bars in my quest to eat all organic, I made a concentrated effort to reach for my water bottle and chug down H20 instead of snacking.
5. My skin looked great.
Within five days of cleaning up my diet, I distinctly remember looking in the mirror after rolling out of bed one Thursday morning. My skin looked brighter, and the small bumps that I typically see on my forehead (my dermatologist says these are due to my constant exercise habits/dehydrated skin) were super minimal. Yes. Please.
6. I definitely couldn’t eat ALL organic forever.
Again, it’s super expensive to eat all organic. Did I feel good? For sure. And I loved my skin. But for me, spending almost double isn’t really worth the health benefits. There’s nothing wrong with that, says nutrition consultant Dr. Mike Roussell, PhD.
“Eating fruits and vegetables of any sort is much better than eating fewer because you can’t afford to eat ample amounts of the organic version,” he says. “If you need to triage your organic food intake opt for buying the organic version of soft skinned and fleshy fruits and vegetables —strawberries, peaches, nectarines, and tomatoes consistency are found to have the highest levels of pesticides.”
Some swaps? Alright, doc. Now that’s a compromise that I can get on board with.
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