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Produce puzzle: Locally-grown or organic?

TODAY nutritionist Joy Bauer offers tips for buying healthy vegetables, including the 12 you should buy organically.
/ Source: TODAY

People are rediscovering the benefits of buying local food. Proponents claim that it's fresher than most foods in the supermarket and has the added bonus of supporting the local economy. But what about the organic produce at your local supermarket? Is is better to buy locally or organic and what's the difference anyway? TODAY nutritionist Joy Bauer sorts out the issue.

For plant foods to be considered organic they can’t have been subjected to any synthetic fertilizers or chemicals (like pesticides); the land they’re grown on must be certified organic; and genetic modification and irradiation is a no-no.

When it comes to animal foods, organic refers to livestock that has access to the outdoors, has been given only organic feed for at least a year, and hasn’t been treated with antibiotics or growth hormones.

Locally grown is a less definitive term, some say it applies only to foods grown within a 100-mile radius, others stretch it to 250-miles, and one pioneer of the movement defines it as food grown within a “day’s leisurely drive from your home.”

It also usually means seasonal food from small farms, as opposed to the massive agribusinesses where most supermarket food comes from.

What your best option?

It’s a personal choice.

As a nutritionist, I’d have to say that no matter what type of produce you buy — locally grown, organic or conventional — it’s VITAL for your health. Tens of thousands of studies have confirmed that the intake of fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of chronic illness and improve the quality of life. That said, in the perfect world I’d recommend the following:

Buy as much seasonal, locally grown produce as you can … you get the chance to connect with your food, help local business, certainly support the environment and get super fresh-delicious produce. However, depending upon where you live, you are limited to seasonal food items. So for greater variety supplement with store bought organic (consider frozen organic to secure nutrient density and slightly reduce cost).

If money or availability is an issue, I’d limit your supplemental organic purchases to what many experts claim to be the most heavily sprayed 12 items and stick with conventional for the rest.

Suggested 12 foods to buy ORGANIC:

  • Apples
  • Cherries
  • Grapes, imported
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach

Keep in mind that many local farmers do not use pesticides…. however, they can’t advertise themselves as certified organic because it’s a long and expensive process. Therefore, if you’d like to support your local farmers (and organic matters to you) —ask questions, you may be pleasantly surprised with the answers.

For more information on healthy eating, visit TODAY nutritionist Joy Bauer’s Web site at