To meet the growing demand for organic foods, Bay Area markets have expanded their organic foods sections to offer foods and produce that don't contain food additives, flavor enhancers such as MSG, artificial sweeteners, contaminants or preservatives that can cause health problems.
Gene's Fine Foods in Pleasanton, which came under new ownership last April, now offers one of the largest selections of organic bulk foods in the Tri-Valley, including an olive oil bar and a bulk spice center. With the trademarked SunRidge Farms brand, the store has become a true innovator in organic and natural bulk and packaged nuts and seeds, dried fruit, candies, and snack and trail mixes.
"Our commitment to natural ingredient development means that we are featuring nutritional products that are free of unhealthy refined sugars, hydrogenated oils, artificial colorings and preservatives," said Casey Rodacker, manager of the supermarket, which is located at 2803 Hopyard Road at the intersection of Valley Avenue.
He pointed out that studies have demonstrated the benefits of olive oil in protecting against high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other conditions that contribute to heart disease.
The store's organic bulk foods section gives customers the ability to choose from a large selection of olive oils and spices. There are even snack categories offering a variety of naturally flavorful ingredients, Rodacker said.
Sarah Owens, marketing director of New Leaf Community Markets, which will open another of its supermarkets later this spring in the Vintage Hills shopping center in Pleasanton, agrees that organic foods are healthier than conventional provisions.
In fact, New Leaf was the first store to develop relationships with local farmers when New Leaf was established 27 years ago in Santa Cruz County. Its produce department is 90% organic, and at times it's close to 100%, Owens said.
"As a whole, New Leaf Community Markets believes that supporting organics and the organic industry is more than a personal quest, but a larger transformative force for the better well-being of our planet as a whole," she said.
Owens added, "Maybe in a small scope of vitamin and mineral content, conventional broccoli and organic broccoli may be similar nutritionally, but the difference that you'll find when purchasing the organic option is a reduction in the risk for pesticide exposure and other environmental concerns with conventional farming, and a reduction in the risk of GMOs.
"Also, taking a look at organic meat, we believe supporting organic options in our meat category is necessary. Why? Because it offers our customers meat that contains less antibiotic-resistant bacteria, better animal welfare, and a decrease in the risk of GMOs. It's important to note that there are no long-term studies offered currently. The reason we support organics is that we feel it will have positive long-term effects on our bodies and on the planet."
Still, not everyone is convinced that organic meat and produce are worth the extra price over conventionally grown foods.
Last August, a research team from Stanford University found no large difference between organic and conventional produce, including measurable increase in vitamin C. Stanford researchers even questioned if organic produce contains more of the compounds known as phenol, a possible cancer preventative.
The Stanford study also found no difference in total flavonoids between organic and conventional fruits and vegetables. Flavanols are a class of compounds that plants produce for self-defense. Flavanols are found, for example, in cocoa and green tea, and are thought to help prevent against cancer, heart disease and other ills in humans.
Other studies, analysts and marketers, including Gene's and New Leaf, however, agree with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and The Organic Center in promoting the benefits of organic foods. These foods, especially raw or non-processed, contain higher levels of beta carotene, vitamins C, D and E, health-promoting polyphenols, cancer-fighting antioxidants, flavonoids that help ward off heart disease, essential fatty acids and essential minerals, they said.
On average, organic is 25% more nutritious in terms of vitamins and minerals than products derived from industrial agriculture. Since on the average, organic food's shelf price is only 20% higher than chemical food, this makes it actually cheaper, gram for gram, than chemical food, even ignoring the astronomical hidden costs (damage to health, climate, environment and government subsidies) of industrial food production, these experts argue.
Eating organic, they added, has the potential to lower the incidence of autism, learning disorders, diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease, allergies, osteoporosis, migraines, dementia and hyperactivity.
"Our commitment to natural ingredient development means that we are featuring nutritional products that are free of unhealthy refined sugars, hydrogenated oils, artificial colorings and preservatives," said Gene's Fine Foods' manager Rodacker.
"Studies have demonstrated, for instance, the benefits of olive oil in protecting against high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other conditions that contribute to heart disease."
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