1. Budget Smartly
Organic foods are sometimes more expensive than mainstream alternatives. If your grocery budget allows you to go exclusively organic, do so. If money is tight, choose organic products selectively.
Organic is better because it's "definitely healthier for the environment and reduces the pesticide load in the body," says Dr. Kulze, who also serves as national spokesperson for the Smart Eating Initiative at Ruby Tuesday restaurants nationwide. "Although we could certainly argue that there are safe limits for individual pesticides based on scientific study, pesticides are clearly not healthy substances."
2. Know Your Nutrients
"There is scientific evidence, although limited, that organic produce is 'healthier' because it contains more micronutrients and phytochemicals," Dr. Kulze says.
She cites a recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, which found that certain antioxidant flavonoids levels were higher in individuals who ate organically grown produce (vs. those who consumed conventionally grown produce).
"Researchers at the University of California, Davis, recently found that organic tomatoes had higher levels of phytochemicals and vitamin C than conventional tomatoes," she adds. "Organic broccoli, blackberries, strawberries and corn had higher levels of flavonoids compared to their conventionally grown counterparts."
3. Put Children First
If your family budget precludes buying 100% organic food for everyone in your household, start with your kids.
"Children are at greater risk for potential adverse effects from pesticides because they consume more food calories per unit of body weight than adults, and because their cells are dividing at a more rapid rate," Dr. Kulze says.
This is especially important if picky eaters refuse to try different fruits and vegetables.
"If a child-or an adult-only consumes a limited variety of fruits and vegetables ('The only type of fruit I eat is apples' or 'The only vegetable I can get my child to eat is broccoli'), I strongly recommend the organic varieties," Dr. Kulze says. "Recurrent exposure to the same pesticides over time poses a much greater risk for adverse effects."
4. Be a Savvy Shopper
Certain fruits and vegetables are known to have higher levels of pesticides and toxins. When shopping, go organic.
"Consider buying organic varieties of the most notoriously contaminated fresh fruits and vegetables, known as the 'dirty dozen,' " Dr. Kulze says. They include: apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach and strawberries.
The Washington, DC-based Environmental Working Group has published a free, downloadable, wallet-sized Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce-a handy color reference that ranks fruits and vegetables by pesticide levels. Carry it with you when you go shopping.
5. Mother Knows Best
Mom knew best: You need to eat your vegetables, which are naturally low in calories and high in fiber. Organically grown vegetables are readily available in many mainstream supermarkets.
"Veggies are nutritional megastars because they are loaded with health-promoting, disease-reversing vitamins, minerals and those incredible phytochemicals," says Dr. Kulze, who prescribes at least five servings a day.
If you're watching your weight, "the superstar veggies for weight loss are all cruciferous: cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and collards," Dr. Kulze says.
She also recommends organic carrots, garlic, onions, leeks, tomatoes, asparagus, spinach, dark lettuce, and red and orange bell peppers.
6. Don't Be Fruit Loopy
Supplement organic vegetables with a balanced diet of organic fruit.
"Strive to have two servings of fruit daily," Dr. Kulze says. "If weight is not an issue, have as much as desired."
If you're restricting your caloric intake, the best organic fruits are berries, cherries, plums, whole citrus, cantaloupe, grapes, peaches, apples, pears, and dried or fresh apricots. Dr. Kulze advises against the sweeter tropical fruits: banana, mangoes, papaya and pineapple.
Fruit offers many health benefits: protection against coronary disease, heart attacks, stroke, high blood pressure, diverticulitis, age-related vision loss and several cancers, she says.
7. Swap Soda for Soymilk
Popular beverages-from soda and sports drinks to many fruit juices-are nothing more than liquid sugar, and Dr. Kulze describes banishing them from your diet as a "no-brainer."
"Drink the majority of your liquids from the one beverage we know conclusively our bodies are genetically perfectly suited for: clean water," she says. "Other permissible beverages include 100% vegetable or tomato juice, 1% or skim milk, and soymilk."
As for tea and coffee, consume them in moderation. Even organic varieties contain caffeine (unless labeled caffeine-free).
8. Love Those Legumes
Dr. Kulze calls legumes "miracle" beans, as they're an excellent source of low-fat vegetable protein, fiber, B vitamins, iron, potassium, magnesium and phytochemicals. She recommends one serving (at least half a cup) each day.
Shop for organic varieties of her "superstar" bean choices: soybeans, lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), butter beans, navy beans, black beans, white beans and split peas.
"Because they contain protein and lots of fiber, they very effectively fill you up," she says.
9. Develop a Grain Brain
Organic whole grains like 100% whole wheat, whole oats, brown rice, rye, barley and quinoa are Dr. Kulze's picks, as they're great sources of fiber, minerals, B vitamins and phytochemicals.
"When purchasing grain products like bread, cereal and crackers, you must see the word 'whole' in front of the grain to be sure you are not getting its refined counterpart," she says.
Whole grains help lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, diverticulitis, high blood pressure and osteoporosis.
10. Going Nuts Isn't Crazy
Nuts have been shown to improve cardiovascular health. Dr. Kulze recommends 1 to 1˝ ounces a day, including walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts (filberts), Brazil nuts, pecans and pine nuts-all of which offer a "terrific trio of vegetable protein, fiber and good fat," she says.
Organic pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds are also nutritionally sound choices.
Also, check out this informative blog entitled No Nutritional Difference Between Conventional and Organic Foods? The Organic Center to the Rescue!