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Balance is key to eating organic foods
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Dietician Linda Siesel of Seminole holds up some celery as an example of healthy food that parents should be encouraging their children to eat.
SEMINOLE – Most food experts would agree that eating organically is the way to go. They also agree it can be expensive and that is why even the most dedicated organic supporters say that perhaps a little give and take is required if a person wants to consider themselves organic.

Mario Martinez is the Corporate Executive Chef for the Rollin’ Oats chain of healthy food restaurants. Contacted in the St. Petersburg location at 2842 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N., Martinez admits that in order for his company, or any company to go completely organic would mean it would be pricing itself out of the market.

“We have to strike a balance that makes sense for us to be organic,” he said. “Otherwise we’d be pricing ourselves out of competitiveness. Some items are not necessarily affected by being non-organic.”

Martinez explained that food that is grown close to the top of the ground or is actually on the ground is more susceptible to toxic chemicals, whereas some other foods, not so much.

“Produce that is non-organic is more often than not contaminated with chemicals, pesticides and synthetic fertilizers,” he said. “Things that grow closer to earth, such as lettuce, have a higher toxicity level.”

In Seminole, Registered Dietician Linda Siesel agrees organic would be the way to go, but people have to be practical and have to be able to afford it.

“The consumer has to be savvy enough to know what organic means,” she said. “There is a specific definition provided by the government, and organic farmers put that definition on the label of their foods.”

Siesel, who operates her own company, Take Shape For Life, says healthy eating is the key to an overall healthy lifestyle.

“It is always a good idea to go fresh,” she said. “Fresh is not necessarily organic, so be aware of the labels and be aware of what is truthfully organic.”

The government definition of organic, in part, outlines what can or can’t be used in the production of food.

“Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones,” Siesel said. “Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.”

Using that definition Siesel says organic doesn’t always mean no pesticides.

“There are approved ones,” she said. “We need some things to protect our goods, we have to keep our food fresh so it can be transported, and it is a food safety issue.”

Thus, she says, comes the give and take of eating organic.

“I believe in balance. I think a lot of people don’t trust the government. A lot of ingredients have been put into foods that aren’t healthy,” she said. “Trans-fat and sodium and GMO, genetically modified organisms are all being studied. Scientists are looking into the additives and links to certain diseases.”

Siesel says she welcomes those studies but repeats that a modicum of balance is required.

“Of course some people take it to extremes, and that has forced the government to make changes and keep an eye on things,” she said. “That is not necessarily a bad thing, it helps create change. We need to speak up, not just about organic but about all preservatives. Are they really necessary, and are they helping us to be as healthy as possible?”

Back in St. Petersburg, Chef Martinez explained that the organic way of life served humanity well for hundreds of years. It was based on crop rotation and allowing a field to lie fallow every seven years so the nutrients could be fully restored to the soil. He said the end came with the invention of the huge harvesters, which helped put small farms out of business and led to the creation of huge corporate farms, which use artificial fertilizers to grow their crops.

He hopes things are changing back.

“There are movements, the slow food movement, the food-to-table movement, which are taking hold,” he said. “I teach my students the importance of going back to a more natural approach. The toxin level is too high these days; we must go back to the techniques that lasted for hundreds of years.”

Martinez says there is no doubt in his mind that eating organically is the healthiest way to go.

“People who eat organically are more likely to be healthier,” he said. “People make the commitment and take on the expense of a healthy lifestyle are people who exercise regularly and who take classes in a discipline such as yoga as part of their overall well-being. It is becoming mainstream.”

He does admit that those people have to look past the cost of organic living if they are going to maintain it.

“It does cost more money, it is more costly but ultimately it is better. I would prefer to pay more money for something that is healthy than eating something that is harmful.”

Siesel again cautions balance in everyday eating.

“I would never tell anybody 100 percent to eat organic,” she said. “It is more important to stay away from processed foods and to eat more fruit and vegetables and teaching your children to eat that way. Stay away from high fat meats, and get our kids to eat healthier; that was the message that we dieticians love that recently came from the First Lady. As for organic, it is nice if you can afford it.”
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