Jewish World Review April 14, 2003 / 12 Nisan, 5763

BODYLESSONS: Deciphering organic food labels


By Judi Sheppard Missett

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Organic foods, once available only at food co-ops or gourmet shops, have found shelf space in a growing number of mainstream grocery chains. Actually, organic products are big business, with sales in the United States estimated at more than $11 billion last year, and an annual growth rate of 20 percent.

Prompted by this increase in popularity, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration introduced guidelines to help consumers verify the claims promoted on organic products. The Organic Foods Production Act, which went into effect last fall, implemented a national standard for labeling organic consumables as follows:

-- 100 percent organic: All ingredients meet or exceed USDA standards

-- Organic: At least 95 percent of the ingredients meet USDA standards

-- Made with Organic Ingredients: At least 75 percent of the ingredients meet USDA approval

But what exactly does ``organic'' mean? Basically, an organic product is grown or raised without the use of chemicals. For produce, that means grown without pesticides or genetic engineering, and in soils that are free of toxins. For meat and poultry, it means livestock that is raised with organically grown feed and without antibiotics and growth-inducing hormones.

This comes with a higher price tag, however. Raising organic foods is more labor-intensive, and an organic product can cost twice as much as its conventionally grown counterpart. But many individuals find it a price worth paying. In addition to reducing their exposure to chemicals, organic farming is considered to be much friendlier to the environment.

In fact, as part of its definition of ``organic,'' the USDA stipulates that the farming methods used must minimize soil erosion and maintain soil fertility. And most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based or sewage-based fertilizers, genetically modified ingredients or irradiation cannot be used. The bottom line: Organic is considered by many to be an investment in good health.

While it may be a bit unrealistic or cumbersome to go ``totally organic,'' you may wish to add a few items to your weekly menu. Of course, a good diet should always be paired with a healthy fitness program.

The following back extension exercise targets the upper back muscles, which help you stand tall with good posture. The exercise can be performed on a resistance ball (as shown) to help improve balance and stability. If you do not have a resistance ball, you can do this exercise on a regular exercise mat.

Kneel in front of the resistance ball and pull it close in to your body. Lean forward on the ball, resting your upper abdominal and lower rib cage area on it. You will need to keep your abdominal muscles tight to support yourself and prevent the ball from ``pushing in'' to your abdominal area. Your chest and shoulders should be extended over the ball, not resting on it.

Place your hands either behind your head or in front of your chin (slightly less intense), with your elbows to the side. You can keep your legs bent, with your knees on the floor, or if you feel secure enough, try stretching your legs out straight as shown. This plank position is an excellent exercise for challenging your balance and stability.

Take a deep breath in, then exhale and lift your head and shoulders a few inches. Pause briefly and return to the beginning position. Keep the movement small and controlled -- this does not have to be a big movement to be effective.

The lower back should not arch, and the back of the neck should be long. Don't lift your chin or look up too high. You can leave your fingertips on the ball as you lift your head and shoulders if you need a little support and help with balance. If you are doing this exercise on the floor without the ball, make sure your feet do not lift off the floor as you arch. Repeat the exercise five to 10 times.

Judi Sheppard Missett is CEO of Jazzercise Inc., an international aerobic-dance instruction company. Comment by clicking here.

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