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Going organic is worth it

Healthy eating may be tougher on the wallet and require more effort but it pays off in the long term

healthy bonanza: Supermarkets in the US are full of whole foods. Photos: Suthon Sukphisit

They say you are what you eat. That wisdom is so true. But how can we eat wisely to stay healthy and safe? That requires planning and knowledge. It's wiser to think twice about what you're going to have for your next meal.

Organic food has become increasingly trendy, an alternative choice of healthy recipes that can assure safety and quality with every bite. My experiences of it in the United States and Thailand are different in comparison. Let's start with the US first. Americans used to mainly eat processed food, which can cause many serious illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Fat, sugar and salt are health threatening when consumed in large amounts. When you buy processed food, you must carefully read the the labels displaying detailed information about the ingredients. If it shows the ratio of such components is significantly high, it can be a health risk. You'd better not eat it. It's as simple as that.

Let me give you some examples of processed food that used to be popular for a long time. Bottled orange juice and corn syrup, for instance. The former has been found to contain too much sugar, while the latter is too processed. However, they are cheaper and more convenient than fresh counterparts. Of course, it's a hassle to squeeze oranges by yourself or you must spend a couple of bucks more for maple syrup or natural honey. Or bacon, instead of frying it, they tend to bake or grill it to get rid of the fat and not to add more fat from the cooking oil. Nowadays Americans prefer to eat anything fresh -- juices, fruits and vegetables, you name it.

And when people start to watch what they eat, the more upscale supermarkets start to sell more fresh foods. Although organic foods or whole foods have been available for decades they're very expensive and sold in selected supermarkets. There's a joke saying "to buy whole food can cost the whole pay cheque". But you probably can't help that and just spend all your money on healthy products. With some products like peanut butter, there are many kinds of nuts and many textures to choose from. They will grind for you at your will to make sure it's freshly made unlike other brands on the shelf.

That's the changing trend of food and eating habits in the US. Now let's see what has happened in Thailand. As a matter of fact, Thai food by nature is actually organic. We eat a lot of vegetables, most of which have medicinal properties. Most dishes have five distinguished tastes. The trick is when you eat chilli paste, you eat it with fresh vegetables, deep fried fish or sometimes stuffed omelet.

You may have other nutritious dishes like red curry soup or spicy tom yum. The ingredients are herbal and tasty. Although spicy foods is not perfectly healthy, it depends on how much sugar and salt you add as much as your own basic health.

For illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, a large number of patients live in Bangkok. Sometimes we call these illnesses "capital city disease". This is most likely because Bangkokians like to eat out, preferring fried foods and instant noodles, or snack often on processed foods. These contain too much sugar and salt.

Thailand has enforced a law to protect consumers that food products must display nutrition facts. However, how many Thais care to read the labels before buying? Many labels are too small to read but when you do, you'll find too much sugar added to your favourite juice. It's dangerous to drink sugary beverages like that every day. What about bottled cooking lime juice used to make Isan dishes and spicy noodles? It isn't made from real lime. On the contrary, it contains artificial substances, colour additives and preservatives.

Many food products are not healthy at all but available widely. They have large marketing budgets to boost sales and their target groups are those on low incomes who tend to eat instant noodles more often than home-made salads.

Speaking of salads, neither fresh vegetables nor fruit are entirely safe. Many gardeners use chemicals to grow them and kill insects. Many grow genetically modified vegetables and fruits for insect-free faster harvests. Even kitchen garden vegetables displayed at the markets are not safe because the sellers like to spray water on them to keep them looking fresh but is the water clean? I doubt it.

Among Bangkok's organic food stores, Lemon Farm supermarket is a great place to find quality organic products which are quite inexpensive. Unfortunately, there as not as many store branches as other more popular chain stores full of processed foods.

We can blame the above-mentioned illnesses on the limited access to safe, healthy food. And often it's down to our laziness. Regardless of the reasons, we know we must look after ourselves. If we don't care, who will?

trim: Baked bacon contains less fat than fried bacon.

choices: Peanut butter grinders featuring a variety of nuts.

straight from the ocean: Fish fresh from the sea not the farm.

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