It’s almost overwhelming the choices you have when shopping for foods these days – especially when it comes to budgeting. And, deciding which organic foods are worth splurging on, and which organic foods that are not worth the cost, may be the most difficult. Here’s where you should shell out more of your hard-earned cash…and where it doesn’t matter so much.
Organic foods used to only be found in health food stores. Today organic foods are everywhere. Not only can they be found at most every neighborhood grocer, but even giants like Wal-Mart are getting into the act. Fruits, meats, there’s even organic beer! So it’s understandable to fret about which items are both essential and certified organic for your optimal health and fitness gains. One thing is for certain: while organic foods are undeniably less processed, they come with a heftier price tag.
But are organic foods really worth the added expense?
The simple way many deal with the decision is to buy organic anytime it’s available, and if you can afford it. That tends to eliminate all the analysis of weather it actually has an affect on your health…default on the side of caution.
But American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Keecha Harris, DrPH, says, “There is no evidence that organic foods are superior over traditional foods.”
Food does not have to be organic to be safe and environmentally friendly, she says. She recommends focusing on eating food grown close to where you live. She notes that some organic foods come from multinational companies and have been trucked across the country.
One thing the experts agree on: Regardless of whether you choose locally grown, organic, or conventional foods, the important thing is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. The health benefits of such a diet far outweigh any potential risks from pesticide exposure.
What Makes a Food ‘Organic’?
Don’t confuse terms such as “free-range,” hormone free” or “natural” with organic. These food labeling terms are not regulated by law.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has created an organic seal. Foods bearing it are required to be grown, harvested, and processed according to national standards that include restrictions on amounts and residues of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “organic” foods cannot be treated with any synthetic pesticides, sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. They may use pesticides derived from a natural source.
When buying organic, look for the following regulated terms on food labels:
- Food labeled “100% organic” has no synthetic ingredients and can legally use the USDA organic seal.
- Food labeled “organic” has a minimum of 95% organic ingredients. It is eligible to use the USDA organic seal.
- Food labeled “made with organic ingredients” must contain at least 70% organic ingredients. It is not eligible for the USDA seal.
- Meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy labeled “organic” must come from animals that have never received antibiotics or growth hormones. “It is almost impossible to get organic meat,” Nestle notes.
Experts recommend spending most of your organic food dollars on produce, as it is most likely to contain pesticides.
Organic Food and Your Health
The USDA makes no claims that organic foods are safer, healthier, or more nutritious than conventional foods. There is also little research on the health outcomes of people who eat primarily organic diets.
Government limits do establish the safe amount of pesticides that can be used in growing and processing foods, and the amount of pesticide residue allowable on foods.
According to the EPA web site, because kids’ immune systems are not fully developed, they may be at greater risk from some pesticides than adults. The web site also notes that the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act set tougher standards to protect infants and children from pesticide risks.
The Price of Buying Organic Food
Just how much more expensive is it to go organic? You can expect to pay 50%-100% more for organic foods. That’s because, in general, it is more labor-intensive, and without the help of pesticides, the yield is not always as favorable.
What are the Organic Foods that are Not Worth The Cost? Here are15 items that have the least pesticide residues, and few benefits for the cost:
As a kid we used to pick wild asparagus in the fields near our ranch. They grow like a weed, and multiply in the fields easily. Asparagus face fewer threats from pests such as insects or disease, so fewer pesticides need to be used.
This creamy fruit has a thick peel that protects the flesh from absorbing agricultural chemicals. It’s on the Clean 15 list of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which highlights commonly consumed produce with the lowest amounts of pesticides, as tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Peeliong the skin off a banana, of course, eliminates pesticides from what’s eaten. This fruit is known as one of the lowest risks for pesticides as a result.
Conventional broccoli doesn’t retain so many pesticides because the crop faces fewer pest threats, which means less spraying.
Maybe it’s the thick skin, but eggplants are among the least likely to be contaminated by pesticides, according to the Environmental Working Group. Look for firm and glossy eggplants to know they’re ripe and undamaged.
Another member of the EWG’s Clean 15, cabbage is generally low in pesticides because of its natural resilience to bugs. The outer leaves tend to shield the inner leaves from almost all toxic sprays, so be sure to discard them if you’re not buying organic.
These fist-sized fuzzy fruits owe much to their prickly brown skins, which keep pesticides from getting into the tangy green flesh within. Although the skin is edible and contains several nutrients, you’re better off discarding it if you choose the non-organic route.
Native to South Asia but grown all over the world, mangoes can be eaten by themselves or as a sweet addition to savory dishes. Beyond being versatile, mangoes test low for pesticides, mainly because of their thick, inedible peel.
According to the EWG’s “Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce,” 98 percent of sampled onions were pesticide-free. These bulblike vegetables grow underground, which is safe from many pests, and have a pungent flavor that naturally repels some bugs.
Pesticide residue stays on papaya skin, but be sure to give them a wash before slicing open. Choose a papaya that is slightly soft and show no signs of bruising or appear shriveled.
The tough, spiny skin can make peeling a pineapple a prickly endeavor, but it also keeps the fruit from absorbing agricultural chemicals. When picking a pineapple, remember that it will not ripen once picked–it will only soften. And the color of a pineapple does not indicate the sweetness, so choose one that is firm, with green, fresh-looking leaves.
Because the USDA does not currently provide organic standards for fish and shellfish, seafood labeled “organic” may not be any safer for you and your family. And organic seafood may still contain contaminants, such as PCBs and mercury.
Fresh or frozen sweet corn is a delicious year-round treat that is also low in pesticides. The USDA found no detectable chemicals on almost all the samples it tested. Pesticide residue profiles for sweet corn—fresh or frozen—are tested to be very similar. Generally neither form of corn has very many pesticides on it.
Sweet peas are among the least likely vegetables to have pesticide residue, according to the Environmental Working Group’s latest survey of government data.
With that rind, watermelon has a natural defense against the onslaught of any chemical.
When shopping for organic foods, the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., shares a guidline of the “dirty dozen” — types of produce that are most susceptible to pesticide residue. Generally, these foods require more pesticides due to their being more vulnerable to pests, absorb more pesticides, or require shipping from remote areas. For example, if you’re living in California locally grown grapes and strawberries have fewer pesticides.
Here are the “dirty dozen” – 12 organic foods that are likely worth splurging on:
- Sweet bell peppers
- Grapes (imported)
SPLURGE: Organic Beef
Many serious athletes rely on beef for the bulk of their protein needs, as it not only is loaded with protein but iron as well. So, for many folks who regularly eat beef, this might be the most important meat to buy organic. Splurging on beef that is certified organic by the USDA eliminates hormones, antibiotics, and pesticide-laden feeds (corn, soy, and others) given cattle while in the feedlot. Try grass fed beef when possible, as the expense is not typically too much more and it helps to eliminate many of the chemicals.
SAVE: Conventional Cookies
Well, buying only organic cookies may help you feel better about giving into those sweet-tooth splurges. So, for that reason alone they may be worth the cost. However, your body most likely doesn’t notice. A 2013 Cornell University study found that consumers perceived junk foods like cookies to be “healthier” when told they were organic, even if they contained the same number of calories and fat as those presented as non-organic. The researchers surmise that this health halo effect of organic foods could cause people to feel less guilty and, in turn, overeat nutritionally poor items. Organic or not, junk foods is junk food. Save the money in this case.
Reduce Pesticide Residues
Whether or not you buy organic, you can do your part to reduce pesticide residues on foods with the following tips:
- Wash and scrub produce under streaming water to remove dirt, bacteria and surface pesticide residues, even produce with inedible skins such as cantaloupe. Do not use soap.
- Remove the peel from fruits and vegetables.
- Remove the outer leaves of leafy vegetables.
- Trim visible fat and skin from meat and poultry because pesticide residues can collect in fat.
- Eat a variety of foods from different sources.
- Join a co-op farm that supports community agriculture.