All-natural. Organic. Hormone-free. Grass-fed. Unprocessed. When it comes to clean eating, there are enough labels to confuse even your healthiest friend, and all of these terms have made it incredibly overwhelming for those of us who just are trying to make healthier decisions at the grocery store. Ideally, we would buy only organic and additive-free foods, but realistically, we don’t all have the means or cash flow to do so. So, where does someone who is looking to baby step his or her way onto the organic aisles begin?
Enter Robyn O’Brien, food expert, author of The Unhealthy Truth, and mother of four. She gets it. “We have this relationship with food that I think has been twisted for a long time, and we’re just now trying to unravel it,” she says. Nearly 20 years ago, O’Brien entered the food industry in hopes of changing the way her family was eating without completely rocking their lifestyle or budget. O’Brien knew she couldn’t make major changes to her menu all at once, nor could she afford to. Here, she shares her simple tips for eating cleaner without losing your mind.
Take a closer look at labels
The standards for “organic” can really be defined by whoever is doing the labeling, so O’Brien says to always look for the USDA certified-organic seal. This is the gold standard because it’s not just a marketing tool, like many other certifications, but a legal one. According to the US Department of Agriculture, “USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives.” It ensures a cleaner process from start to finish.
Start small and steady
According to the USDA, less than one percent of American farmland is certified organic. This means the supply of certified organic food is so miniscule that the price becomes unreasonably high. To avoid blowing through your budget, O’Brien suggests swapping out one thing at a time. “What does your family, or what do you, eat the most of,” she asks. Whatever that food is, whether it’s fruit, vegetables, or grains, that’s the group you should start with. There’s no need to overhaul your kitchen at once and stock it with only organic foods. “Focus on progress, not perfection,” O’Brien stresses.
Opt for “free-from” foods
When it comes to nutrition, there is no one common ingredient to avoid, O’Brien says, but it’s never a bad idea to look for foods that are free of additives like sugar or soy: “If you think about it, all of these additives like high fructose corn syrup and things that didn’t come out of the ground, were made in a lab.” But because of the rise in food allergies and restrictions, more people are seeking out “free-from” foods, and nutrition experts like O’Brien hope this will lead to an increase of these foods across markets. “Let’s experiment with what happens when we get back to real food,” she says.
Give good feedback to your local grocery store
Don’t sit around and wait for the market to change. “We as consumers have so much power,” says O’Brien. It’s as simple as finding a product you like and telling the grocer you like it; they’ll keep ordering it if they know it’s in demand. Plus, there is even more consumer power now thanks to social media—just look at the all of the good-for-you #foodporn on Instagram. “When our kids do something great, we’re like, ‘Good job, good job!’ Do the same with the companies—tell them good job.”