Should I Buy Organic?

We have all asked ourselves this question at some point when making a purchase in the grocery store. Organic foods can be significantly more expensive than conventional varieties and that may make you wonder if it’s really worth it. Here are some things you should know that will help you make more informed choices.

What does the term “organic” mean?  

Organic foods are not necessarily more nutritious; they are simply grown or produced in non-conventional ways. For produce, this involves growing crops without chemical fertilizers, synthetic pesticides or herbicides. For animal products, this means that animals are fed organic feed, are raised in humane conditions and are not treated with antibiotics or growth hormones. In addition, certified organic foods do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

How do I know what foods are organic?

If you are choosing to buy organic, don’t be fooled! The labels allnatural, free-range or hormone-free do not mean that the product is organic. Only the USDA Organic or Certified Organiclabels indicate that a food meets the standards for organic foods. These labels indicate that the ingredients are 95% or more certified organic, with the remaining 5% only being foods or additives on a USDA-approved list. A label stating a product is “made with organic ingredients” indicates that at least 70% of the ingredients are organic.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that you can actually buy some organic foods that do not sport a USDA Organic label. Becoming certified to market yourself as an organic grower can be very expensive and there are many farmers who use organic growing practices but simply have not gone through the certification process. Farmers markets are a great place to findlocally grown organic produce that is often cheaper than you will find in the grocery store. Just be sure to ask the growers you buy from if their practices are organic.

So, what should I do?

Deciding whether or not to buy organic can be a difficult decision and is dependent on your budget and other priorities. Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out two handy lists that give you a simple way to prioritize which foods to buy organic. The Dirty Dozen contains approximately 12 foods that contain the highest pesticide residues and should always be bought organic. The Clean Fifteen™ list, on the other hand, contains 15 items with the lowest pesticide residues, meaning that you don’t necessarily need to buy them organic. You can download the EWG app on iTunes or Google Play so that you always have the lists with you to save yourself confusion and money at the grocery store.

The Dirty Dozen™

1. Apples
2. Peaches
3. Nectarines
4. Strawberries
5. Grapes
6. Celery
7. Spinach
8. Sweet bell peppers
9. Cucumbers
10. Cherry tomatoes
11. Snap peas
12. Potatoes
13. Hot peppers
14. Kale
15. Collard greens

The Clean Fifteen™

1. Avocados
2. Sweet corn
3. Pineapple
4. Cabbage
5. Sweet peas (frozen)
6. Onions
7. Asparagus
8. Mangos
9. Papayas
10. Kiwi fruit
11. Eggplant
12. Grapefruit
13. Cantaloupe
14. Cauliflower
15. Sweet potatoes

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