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Organic Food Myths

Americans spend billions of dollars every year at health foods stores, assuming the foods and products they're buying are good for them. But, that's not always the case.

The Saturday Early Show's Dr. Mallika Marshall has some advice on navigating health food stores.

Marshall explains many health food stores and even regular supermarkets sell foods that are labeled "organic." According to the United States Department of Agriculture, "Organic is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole. ... Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water."

Marshall says the market for organic products is growing at a very fast rate and the government is doing a pretty good job of making sure that producers stick to guidelines that are in place. Marshall notes there are always some offenders, so you should stick with products from companies that have a good reputation, even if they may be a little more expensive.

When shopping for "healthy products," Marshall recommends shoppers follow a few tips:

Ask For Credentials
Many times when a person goes into a health food store, they ask advice from the clerks about what to buy or how much of a product to take. But, Marshall says, you need to be careful about this. In many cases these workers have no formal training and therefore could be telling you to take something that may not be of any benefit to you or may even do you harm. So if you are in doubt, ask if there is anyone at the store who has real knowledge of the products for sale. And if you are someone who is on medications, Marshall says you shouldn't even think about taking the supplements sold at these stores without first asking your physician.

Research Products
The labels of products sold at health food stores say they have a certain amount of an active ingredient in them. But there are many cases when the product contains far less of the active ingredient than advertised. So you would be smart to stick with well-known products. If you are still in doubt, you can go to a Web site such as Consumerlab.com, which has tested these products and will tell you if they meet industry standards.

Don't Assume Organic is Healthy
If something is sold in a health food store and it's labeled as organic, you will probably assume that it's healthy. But that's not always the case. For instance, the store may sell banana chips fried in coconut oil. While both the banana and coconut oil may be organic, that doesn't mean the chips are healthy. Coconut oil is very fatty and by no means a healthy snack.

Avoid Too Much of a Good Thing
Many health food stores sell products that are enhanced or fortified with supplements. For instance, certain juices have soy added because some research has shown that soy lowers bad cholesterol levels. Other studies, however, show that soy - and lots of it - may not be that good for you. So when buying, says Marshall, read the label because too much of a good thing can be bad in the end.