Thursday, February 9, 2012

My 10 Steps to Natural Living // Step Five: Exploring Organic and All-Natural Foods

(Previous posts from this series: Intro, Step One, Two, Three and Four)

Today I spent a good amount of time at one of our local foods store that sells all kinds of organic and natural, as well as conventional, products. I also decided to a take a trip over to the Publix in town that hosts a large Greenwise section. I had two goals: figure out what organic/natural products are available where and determine the best prices.

In my previous post, I discussed the importance of not increasing our budget (much) as we incorporate organic products into our lifestyle. So I believe it is valuable to take some time researching, exploring and trying new things before diving in. 

As I explore the world for organic and natural foods, there are things I’ve discovered helpful to keep in mind. Here are some tips, listed here as much as for me as for you:

1) Decide the transition is going to be a process. The process is going to be different for each individual or family. Some can throw out all their conventional ways and start new. For us, I think it needs to be a slow and steady transition. We are still learning what is healthiest and what tastes good. I will need to discover if it is better to buy natural or make it myself. I will need to learn a new way of cooking and thinking in regards to the ingredients in my recipes.  We both have those meals/treats we just love so much! Can we find adequate replacements? Plus, I need to find the best deals possible! This all takes some time. And it is worth it.

2) Learn what stores and packages really have inside. I started shopping at our little local foods store a long time ago, with the assumption that every meat, fruit and vegetable was locally farmed raised. I don’t really know why assumed that, but it caused me to think I was getting the best type of meat for really cheap. I wasn’t….I was still getting the cheapest type of meat for really cheap. Then I decided to buy Greenwise beef when it was on sale, thinking I finally got my top of the line grass-fed beef at a rock-bottom price. Still not true. Labels can be so confusing! “All-Natural” … “100% Vegetarian” … “Organic” … “Cage-free”…what do they all mean? What is the difference?

The other day I found a handy Glossary of Meat Production (published by It explains it all! So now I can better discern whether the product I am buying really meets my expectations for nutrition.

By the way, Greenwise products are a great choice compared to conventional, but they aren’t always organic. Here is a list of the Greenwise Market products so you can read about each one.

3) Prioritize which foods to transition first. This step is closely related to step two. As you learn to discern labels on products (be sure to read ingredients lists too!), you will see which foods have the greatest nutritional value. It is a good idea to choose what you want to transition from and to first so that the process is less overwhelming.

I asked my natural living friend how she prioritized her transition and if there were any foods she felt made a significant/immediate difference for her health and nutrition. Here is the list she gave me:

Cut out HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup)
Cut out all refined flours and refined sugars
Cut out artificial flavoring and dyes
Cut out refined oils


Eat REAL butter, preferably from grass fed cows
Eat eggs from free range, medicine-free chickens
Eat meat from organic, hormone and drug free, free range animals
Drink raw milk or whole milk from grass fed cows that is barely pasteurized and not homogenized

I love that she shared this with me, because it definitely helps me think through what is in the food I am purchasing and which ingredients I should tackle first. I can totally see the logic too.

The first group of items are all ingredients that cause harm to our bodies by causing imbalances in hormone production and weakening important biological processes. Similarly, she suggested the second group of foods because they are free of added chemicals and hormones that have the same negative effects.

This is why I’m choosing natural foods – to nourish my body, not malnourish it!

I also found another handy guide for discerning between organic fruits and vegetables. This is a guide of the “Dirty Dozen and CleanFifteen” that you can print and carry with you. (I have mine tucked in my purse for easy reference.) The Dirty Dozen are the fruits/veggies that are usually grown with the most pesticides, while the Clean Fifteen are, well, pretty clean. This is helpful to know when you are deciding whether to spend the extra cash on organic or not. 

4) Don’t limit yourself to stores. It may be easier to shop at stores, but not always cheaper or even have the best products out there. I’m starting to learn about purchasing meat and produce from the local farmers. It is possible to get their products at farmer’s markets, through CSA’s, or buying directly at the farm. I have not done any of those yet, but I am looking forward to new experiences this year! I really want to find U-Pick farms to pick my own produce (the prices are usually really cheap – stock up, freeze and use all year!) And my parents are talking to someone they know about sharing the meat from a grass-fed steer this year. Until butcher time, I plan to check out the farmer’s market to see what kind of meat I can get there. 


As far as the transition to organic/natural in our home, I’ve decided I need to slowly replace items as we run out of what we are currently using. When the generic store brand honey runs low, I will get some local, raw organic honey. When I’m about out of sugar and flour, I’ll replace them with healthier versions. I think this will help us not be wasteful, keep the budget intact and allow me to time to figure out some good recipes that will take the place of some prepackaged goods we are used to eating. 

I’ll update as I go of course. And please share any words of wisdom you may have….best organic brands, good recipes…anything!

Next week, I will show you how I created “Green Space” at home and at work. Thanks for reading!