The Dirty Dozen

Which organic foods are worth the cost?

Each trip to the supermarket you have a choice: organic or not organic? Organic foods are more expensive, making the decision tough for many people on a grocery budget. Is the extra cost really worth it?

Grocery stores are offering increasing numbers of organic options. When it comes to fresh produce, there are what's called the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15: 12 foods you'd do best to buy organic and 15 non-organic fruits and vegetables that are considered safe to eat.

Before your next grocery run, know what to buy organic, what to save money on, and why you're choosing organic.

I try my best to eat healthily the majority of the time so that I feel good and have more energy. I am so passionate about eating healthily, I am actually certified in nutrition. I try my best to eat organic whenever possible, but it's important not to be too strict about it. Just do the best you can. -Merranda Kerr

The Dirty Dozen

Before eating an apple, you wash it under running water hoping the pesticides go down the drain. Unfortunately, some produce is so saturated with pesticides that washing them does little good. Protect yourself and especially young children from the potential health dangers of pesticides by eating the organic version of these foods:

  • Apples
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Snap peas
  • Potatoes
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Spinach
  • Blueberries

The Clean 15

Sometimes, buying organic may not be worth the extra cost. The following foods scored low for pesticide levels after being washed. Organic varieties of these foods are available, but if you're going to spend the extra money for organic, put it towards the dirty dozen rather than the following:

  • Sweet corn
  • Avocados
  • Cabbage
  • Pineapples
  • Onions
  • Papayas
  • Mangoes
  • Asparagus
  • Grapefruit
  • Froze Sweet Peas
  • Egg Plant
  • Kiwi
  • Cauliflower
  • Cantaloupe
  • Sweet potatoes

Why Organic?

Non-organic foods may look the same and even taste the same as organic, so what's the big deal? When it comes to produce, organic fruits and vegetables are grown without the help of toxic types of pesticides, they receive no irradiation treatment (radiation used to kill bacteria and insect pests), the seeds are free of chemicals, and only natural fertilizers are used.

Research has shown that certain organic foods do contain more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than their alternative and many people recognize an improved taste, but science is divided. You can decide for yourself. 
Some prefer to buy organic foods for environmental reasons as well. Organic farming tends to reduce pollution, conserve water, and preserve soil quality.

Worth the Cost?

Organic foods cost more because fertilizing food and keeping pests from damaging crops is more expensive without powerful chemicals to do the job for you.

When deciding whether or not to spend the extra money on organic foods, you must ask yourself whether pesticides and chemical fertilizers are something you should be concerned about. Again, science is unclear. But, would you want your children ingesting chemicals known to kill insects, weeds, and plant infections? Though the amount may seem small, long-term exposure may be doing more harm than you’d like. Pesticides have been associated with numerous health conditions ranging from short-term effects such as nausea and headaches to chronic problems such as cancer, nerve damage, hormonal disruption, and reproductive harm.

Children's bodies are especially susceptible to the dangers of pesticides because their brains, immune systems, and nervous systems are still developing and aren't as capable of defending against the effects of toxic chemicals. So if you’re thinking of taking the organic plunge, start with the Dirty Dozen first!


Operation: Flat Abs

Reach your goal with these four steps.

Forget the six-pack or washboard—you just want flat. No more beer belly, muffin top, love handles, or spare tire. While defined, toned abs would be icing on the cake, your goal for now is just to banish the excess fat and find some pants that fit. A flat stomach is a wonderful thing to work towards, but don't expect to see changes overnight. Fat around your belly is one of the hardest areas to lose, but it can be done.

It's time to find the abdominal muscles hidden somewhere between an outer layer of subcutaneous fat and an inner layer of visceral fat that surrounds your internal organs. It's this visceral fat that's so dangerous to your health, increasing your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome. Reducing the fat around your middle will not only improve your appearance and self-confidence, it'll also improve your health.

So no more sitting around waiting for things to get better on their own. These four lifestyle changes will enable you to see results. 

Change 1: Cardio Exercise

When it comes to burning calories and losing extra weight around your middle, high-intensity cardiovascular exercise is your answer. Low-intensity exercise done for a longer period of time may burn the same amount of calories, but it's not as effective at targeting visceral fat. This means you may have to work harder but for a shorter length of time. Find an exercise you enjoy, whether it's jogging, swimming, tennis, or cycling and break a sweat at least three days a week.

Change 2: Proper Posture

Slouching when you sit or stand makes your belly appear bigger than it really is, but proper posture makes you taller and leaner—and more confident. Align your body in a straight line by keeping your ears above your shoulders and your shoulders in line with your hips, knees, and ankles. Don't let your shoulders roll over or inward but imagine your shirt is hanging on a hanger. Not only will good posture make you appear thinner, but you'll also have more energy and lung capacity.

Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen. - Michael Jordan

Change 3: Whole-Body Exercise

A thousand crunches a day aren't your answer for flat abs. Spot reduction or training isolated body parts just doesn't work. What you want to focus on are exercises that engage multiple muscle groups at once. While crunches target your outer abdominal muscles, other exercises work this muscle as well as your internal and external side muscles and your deep internal ab muscle all at the same time. Whole-body exercises develop strength, burn more calories, and get the job done in a shorter amount of time.

You don't need props like stability balls, free weights, or elastic bands to effectively work your core. On alternating days between your cardio workouts, try Pilates, yoga, or simple body weight exercises like planks, superman, and bird dogs to slim down, tone up, and get the flat abs you desire.

Change 4: Eat Right

Proper posture may help hide belly fat, exercise help burn some calories, and your workout tone and strengthen abdominal muscles, but if you're eating too much of the wrong kind of foods you won't see much of a difference in the appearance of your stomach. In order to decrease body fat, you've got to expend more calories than you eat. Take steps today to cut calories, increase your protein intake, eat more fiber, and make water your go-to drink.

Overweight, Underweight, or Just Right

Tools to help determine your ideal weight.

You're working hard to lose weight. Every morning you work out and all day long you try to eat a healthy diet. And it's paying off. The scale is slowly moving in the right direction, your energy level is increasing, and your health is improving. You plan to make your new healthy habits stick, but how much longer must you focus on weight loss rather than weight maintenance? In other words, how can you know when you've reached your ideal weight?

Rather than comparing yourself to others, it's important to know the answer to this question is different for everyone. Your ideal weight involves at least three factors: your age, height, and sex. Other health experts believe the answer requires more details such as bone density, body fat percentage, or waist-to-hip ratio. Here's a look at the most common ways to determine your ideal weight.

Body Mass Index

Calculating your body mass index (BMI) is the simplest and most popular way to know if you're overweight, underweight, or just right. Your BMI looks at your weight in comparison to your height.

To find your BMI using metric units, take your weight (in kilograms) and divide that number by your height (in meters) squared. For example, the BMI for a person who weighs 100 kg and is 1.8 m tall is 30.86.

When using imperial units, the calculations are a little more complex. Take your weight (in pounds) and multiply it by 703. Then divide that number by your height (in inches) squared. A 200-pound person who's 6 feet (72 inches) tall has a BMI of 27.12. If math isn't your forte, you can easily find a BMI calculator online.

What do these numbers mean? A BMI under 18.5 is considered underweight, between 18.5 and 25 you're good to go, and over 25 you're obese.

Body Fat Percentage

Unfortunately, BMI is unable to account for other factors that influence health and weight. For example, it overestimates the amount of body fat in muscular or thin people and underestimates it in overweight people. Two people could be the same height or the same weight, but one is a marathon runner and the other sits around all day. Or, a large football player who's in great shape and is all muscle is categorized as obese. Remember, muscle weighs more than fat. Rather than using BMI to provide a picture of health, athletes may do better to calculate their body fat percentage to get an idea of how much of their total body weight is fat and how much is muscle, bone, skin, and organs.

Your doctor or personal trainer may use various methods (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, near-infrared interactance, or bioelectrical impedance analysis) to determine body fat percentage, but none are perfect. The recommended amounts of body fat vary depending on your sex and fitness level, but anything over 25 percent is considered overweight for males and 31 percent or higher is considered overweight for females.

Waist-to-Hip Ratio

BMI calculations provide a general idea of a healthy weight compared to your height, but they overlook waist and hip circumferences, both of which affect health. If you carry extra weight around your middle and have an apple-shaped body, you're more at risk for cardiovascular health problems and type 2 diabetes as compared to people with pear-shaped bodies (excess weight around the hips and bottom).

Finding your waist-to-hip ratio is another method used to determine ideal body weight. First, measure the circumference of your waist, usually around your belly button. Second, measure the distance around your hips at the widest part. Then divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. An answer of 1.0 or greater in men and a ratio of 0.85 or more in women is an indication that too much weight is being carried around the belly.