You don’t have to eat food that is laden with chemicals, and is thus bad for your health.
You just need to learn how to choose right. It stars with learning how to identify organic food that is good for you.
Here’s a 10 points primer to help you pick food that is healthy, sans pesticides and other chemicals and is bonafide organic.
The Look & the Feel
For example, there will be different shades of yellow in your moong dal, instead of the uniformly bleached yellow daal available packaged these days.
They have stronger aroma, flavour, and non-uniform texture. For example, organic spices will have a strong aroma and flavour as they retain their oil content.
In non-organic spices, oils have been extracted and sold separately so they are devoid of any oil.
Plus, they are usually adulterated, so you need to use more to get the same result.
Try ajwain / laung / zeera—just eat it raw, and you’ll know the difference—your tongue will have a strong sensation after having half a tsp of ajwain that’s organic (won’t be same with the non-organic one!).
Similarly, organic apples have a divine fragrance.
Texture can be a giveaway too: your ghee will be more granular if it is not organic and will be less tasty.
With jaggery, the darker it is, the better it is as chemicals are used to make it lighter in colour.
Organic sugar is minus all chemicals like the rancidity regulators, the free flowing agents (to make it non-lumpy), acids, and chlorine, which are usually present in most white sugars.
So shun brilliant white sugar – whiter it is, more the chemicals in it. Even if it says sulphurless be wary as they simply use a different acid to bleach it.
Then there’s brown sugar and there’s actual brown sugar; if it is good it will be a little moist and lumpy as organic sugar will always absorb a little water. Plus organic will always have a slight wisp of smell.
Fruits, vegetables, grains will be of a believable size, instead of huge. There are of course special cases in which people do grow big sized fruits and vegetables organically as well, but they are not the norm, so are difficult to find.
Keedas (beavers) in your grains are actually good news.
Naturally grown sabut daals (moong sabut, urud sabut, etc), your atta, maida, brown rice, white rice and other grains will get keedas after 2-3 months, especially during monsoon (because keedas too know that non-organic food is just not edible).
Remember, keedas don’t contaminate your food, pesticides do.
Similarly if you see a few holes in the leaves of the greens you are buying, pick up the bunch; it means it is not heavily pesticided.
Just make sure after after washing them well, to give a final rinse of salt water for 2-3 min to remove germs and residues.
Natural and organic foods have a lot of natural flavour in them so are tastier, but won’t taste artificial.
For example organic milk tastes sweeter, and also has more body.
Organic fruit is juicy as they are allowed to ripen on the tree compared to fruit that is plucked when green and gassed to ripen and increase the shelf life.
With a banana the mouth feel itself will tell you – as the pesticided fruit has more water because of spraying of acetylene gas.
The adage apple a day to keep the doctor away – is actually only for the organic apples.
Similarly your honey shouldn’t be super sweet like some packaged honeys.
Also the colour cannot be uniform every year; different colour simply means that the bees have done things a little differently this year.
The Health Quotient
Organic food is far healthier, is lighter on the digestive system and also helps reduce acidity and gas related GI issues.
You will feel a perceptible difference in your gut health soon enough.
Also it is a myth that organic fruits and vegetables spoil faster; stored in a refrigerator they last for a long time.
Similarly, you must switch to cold-pressed organic oils as their nutrients are intact.
The processing method does not use a high amount of heat that causes nutrient loss.
Secondly, there are no chemicals that refined oil has because of its refining process. Also these are high in flavour and fragrance.
Organic atta is usually stone-ground, has all the bran intact - therefore the family of B vitamins - and has enough healthy roughage to keep your digestion humming along.
Please Read the Label
Always check for any preservatives present in the product; most preservatives are petroleum based – you don’t want to be consuming those for sure!
Not a norm in India yet, but sometimes fruits and vegetables that is meant for export do land up in the local market and have a sticker on them which you can check.
4 digit PLU (price look up) code on the sticker basically means grown with pesticides; 5 digit codes starting with 8 means GM grown, 5 digit codes starting with 9 means organically grown; in India we basically have the regular 4 digit PLU which indicates that it is grown with pesticides.
(Kavita Devgan is a nutritionist, weight management consultant, and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of The Don't Diet Plan: A no-nonsense guide to weight loss, Fix it with Food, Ultimate Grandmother Hacks, and Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People.)