Here are answers for only a few questions I hear regarding shopping locally, reading labels, and shopping for organic foods. Why do people need to use local farmers’ markets?

When you buy local you are choosing food that is closer to the date of picking and therefore higher in nutrients than foods that came from a greater distance.  Also, many organic farmers don’t want to or can’t afford to pay the fees for their produce to be certified organic, so you have to ask them.  Talk with them to find out about their farming practices and whether or not they use pesticides.  Most farmers will also advertise where their farms are located.

What should I look for on food labels?

This is a loaded question but here are a few answers.

Whole grains: look for the word “whole” in the ingredients list before grains like wheat and look for at least three grams of fiber per serving.

Fats: The nutrient list should say “0 trans fat,” the fat that raises the risk of heart disease.  Check the ingredient list as well for partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated fats, also forms of trans fat.  Take special care when purchasing “low fat” foods and look for artificial sweeteners.

Sugars: Aside from dairy products, aim for less than 10 grams per serving, the lower the better.  Take special care when shopping for “low fat” foods and check the label for artificial sweeteners.  Many manufacturers will add sugar or artificial sweeteners on reduced fat products.  These products should be avoided.  Go for the full fat versions instead, unless they contain trans fats.

Sodium: Avoid products with more than 480 milligrams per serving.

Which organic foods are most important to buy to avoid pesticides and additives like hormones?

Organic fruits and vegetables should top your list, particularly those where you eat the skin like berries, greens, and summer squash. Aim to buy organic dairy, meat, and chicken to avoid the added antibiotics and hormones.  Whenever possible buy locally; not only has a lot of energy been expended to get that organic apple from Ecuador to you, but the apple has also lost a lot more nutrients en route than a local organic one picked the same week you buy it.