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21 Things You Didn’t Know About Organic Food

Before you buy organic or natural foods, see what today's food experts told us about making smart food choices.

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"Organic" isn't a new idea

Before World War II, all crops were organic. It was only afterward that farms used new, synthetic pesticides and chemicals to minimize weed, insects, and rodent damage. What's not new? Many worry about the long-term effects of ingesting chemical residues from "conventional" produce (i.e., sprayed crops), as well as the impact these treatments have had on our planet and our resources. Learn the signs you're eating too many food additives.

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Organic isn't just for the rich

Many are making efforts to help everyone access organic food, from giant companies like Walmart to local non-profits like Growing Power, a Milwaukee community garden that helps thousands of area residents buy affordable, sustainable food. Here are some smart ways to eat healthy on a budget.

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78% of U.S. families buy some organic food

Yet according to the Organic Trade Association, even though sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to an estimated $29 billion in 2011, that only represents 4.2% of all food sold in the U.S.

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Pregnant women and kids: Pay attention!

These groups may benefit most from organics. Studies show that fetuses and young children might be harmed by exposure to even low levels of pesticides. It could also hurt your fertility—here's why.

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Everyone can eat an organic diet

One popular criticism is that farmers can't grow enough to supply organic food for all. It's true that if everyone needed to eat organic meat in quantity, it would be difficult for today's agribusiness to produce enough organic feed to nourish the livestock. That said, if people ate less meat, and we had a large-scale shift in thinking, it would be possible for our lands to be developed to yield organic produce as they did before World War II. Also, we'd probably go farther in the fight against hunger. Here are some more good things that happen once you stop eating red meat.

If you think [insert organic granola bar name here] is a cute little artisan line, think again

The majority of organic brands you see in the grocery aisle are owned by giant corporations. Bear Naked? Kashi? Morningstar Farms? Kellogg. Naked juice? Pepsi. Odwalla? Coca Cola. LaraBar? Cascadian Farm? General Mills. And the latest is the acquisition of Bolthouse Farms by Campbell Soup Company for over $1.5 billion. (Look up your favorite brands here.)

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Organic could still come from China

To get to your plate, most food travels over 1,000 miles—even organic food. Check the labels or ask the market manager to figure out the origin of your organic produce, and try to buy local. In addition to helping the environment, shopping local keeps dollars in your community. Note: Even if a local, small farm isn't certified organic, many of them use organic methods. These are the healthiest foods you can buy at the grocery store.

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Don’t picture happy animals roaming on idyllic farms just because it’s organic meat

The USDA requires that, “organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals … given no antibiotics or growth hormones.” But this could just mean the animals ate organic corn instead of conventional corn. Organic meat is probably worth the expense to reduce your exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

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Skip labels that call seafood organic

When it comes to fish and ocean life, there are no federal regulations that makes something "sustainable" or "organic." So if you see seafood marked as such, be wary: It's not required on a state or federal basis to meet any specific standards, it hasn't been tested for toxicity, and it's probably more expensive. These facts about seafood will change the way you eat fish.

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You can save your milk money

According to a recent article in Pediatrics, researchers found that milk from cows given hormones seems safe for kids and concluded there is no significant difference in the estrogen concentration of organic versus conventional milk. Their surprising recommendation: Drink skim milk (organic or not), because higher-fat milks contain more estrogen, which has been linked to cancer and other hormonal issues.

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