People today are paying more attention to what’s in their food.
With food borne illnesses such as e coli making the national news, and books and movies like “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “Food Inc.” being read and seen by more of a mainstream audience, it’s no surprise that the interest in organic foods has increased during the past few years.
More To The Label
“There are many nutritional and environmental benefits in choosing organic foods,” says Kristen Ide, a registered dietitian and a nutrition and weight loss counselor at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington. “Generally, you’re not exposing yourself to pesticide, herbicides and other chemicals, and the animals and insects used to create the food are safer.”
Some organic foods have been known to have higher nutritional value, especially in iron, magnesium and antioxidants, Ide says.
Conversely, vitamin C in traditionally-grown foods tends to be depleted due to nitrogen in chemicals. The use of antibiotics in animals for consumption also may reduce a person’s immunity to antibiotics, she says. Thus, outbreaks of “super strains” of bacteria — such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus, or MRSA — can occur.
If individuals were to eat more foods or animal products with less antibiotics, they may have more of a resistance to bacteria, Ide says, noting that meat and dairy products which come from animals that are allowed to graze pastures and are not cooped up in cages tend to have higher levels of Omega 3, which helps with brain function.
When it comes to purchasing animal products, Ide explains the differences between free range, cage-free and grass-fed:
• Free range — The animals have continual access to the outdoors, eating healthier food such as grass.
• Cage-free — The animals are not caged, but they still can be enclosed in a crowded barn and still may not eat healthy grass. Instead, they may eat coy or soy. They do not have continual access to the outdoors.
• Grass-fed — Very similar to free range, the animals feed on grass and roam pastures.
However, all free range, cage-free and grass-fed animals still may come into contact with pesticides and hormones, even though the use of antibiotics and hormones is limited.
“If you want to go organic, look for the organic seal because more than 95 percent of the ingredients listed must be organic,” Ide says. “Also, if you’re on a budget, try to at least buy organic alternatives of those items on the Dirty Dozen list or, alternatively, buy those items on the [Clean] Fifteen list.”*
Organic Means More
Some local restaurants have been making a conscientious effort to provide more organic choices to their customers.
“I believe the markets really create the trends, and organic foods are the way of the future,” says Michael Mandile, manager of operations at Mandile’s Restaurant and Banquets in Algonquin.
Mandile’s uses organic products in many of its dishes.
“I visit many of the local markets and hand pick the produce and fresh fish,” Mandile says. “We use grass-fed meat. With the organic food, the flavor is like night and day.”
In addition to offering organic food, Mandile’s takes pride in its variety of organic cocktails and other liquors including beer and wine, Mandile says. One hundred percent of Mandile’s cocktails are made from scratch using organic ingredients including fresh fruit and herbs and organic liquor.
Another local restaurant, Duke’s Alehouse & Kitchen in Crystal Lake, uses about 50 percent organic products on an average basis in its dishes.
“We try to get much of our food from local farmers and producers and keep the transportation distance under 100 miles,” says Zak Dolezal, general manager and chef at Duke’s. “Not only is the quality of the food better, but we have developed a relationship with the food whereas many times the relationship can be very distant.”
The restaurant also tries to substitute various organic fruits and vegetables as they become available each season.
“The best example are the heirloom tomatoes we use in August and September — the flavor is just so much better than tomatoes used the rest of the year,” Dolezal says.
Dolezal currently is trying to use more sustainable types of salmon including Sockeye and Wild Salmon. Many national aquariums, including the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, have developed partnerships with local restaurants to promote and educate sustainable seafood and fish options. mc
* The Dirty Dozen lists the 12 fruits and vegetables that maintain the highest pesticide residue, whereas the Clean 15 lists the 15 safest fruits and vegetables. To learn more about these lists put out by the Environmental Working Group, visit www.ewg.org/foodnews.