Buying Organic: Is it Really Worth it?

Over the past decade, there has been a dramatic increase in demand for and sales of organic foods. Today, nearly two-thirds of all Americans report buying some organic foods, and the numbers of buyers continues to rise as more mainstream supermarket chains carry organic brands. Many people choose organic foods because they believe that these foods have more nutritional value and better food safety. Current research has shown that organic fruits and vegetables have comparable nutritional content to conventional foods, but many have significantly lower levels of pesticides and other dangerous chemicals as compared to their conventional counterparts. Choosing organic comes at a price; most organic products are at least double the price of conventionally grown foods. Are you willing to pay the price? Let’s see why it may be worth it.

Organic foods are regulated by the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), which sets very strict organic food processing and production standards that farmers must follow in order to have their foods labeled as “Organic.” Requirements for Organic food labeling include:

–       Food has never been genetically modified (often seen as non-GMO) or irradiated

–       Fertilizer foods are grown in does not contain synthetic ingredients or sludge from sewage

–       Food is free of synthetic chemicals (pesticides)

–       Animals have never been treated with antibiotics or growth hormones

–       Animals are feed an organic feed, and never any animal by-products

–       Animals have access to outdoors and other humane conditions (“free range”)

When considering buying organic foods, you don’t need to make every food purchase an organic one. The USDA has identified several conventionally grown (non-organic) fruits and vegetables that have dangerously high pesticide levels even after thorough washing, and therefore choosing the organic version of these produce promotes better food safety. This “Dirty Dozen” list was updated in 2011.

When purchasing the following fruits and vegetables, ALWAYS choose organic:

–       Strawberries

–       Raspberries

–       Blueberries

–       Pears

–       Peaches

–       Grapes

–       Spinach

–       Nectarines

–       Bell peppers

–       Kale

–       Spinach

–       Apples

–       Cherries

–       Celery

–       White potatoes

The safest non-organic fruits and vegetables to buy include:

–       Bananas

–       Pineapple

–       Papaya

–       Mango

–       Kiwi

–       Broccoli

–       Avocado

–       Asparagus

–       Cauliflower

–       Peas

–       Eggplant

–       Cabbage

–       Onions

–       Sweet corn

–       Grapefruit

When it comes to meat, milk and seafood choose:

–       Organic milk

–       Organic meat and poultry

–       Skip organic seafood – conventional is similar in quality to organic

Now that you know what organic food is all about, you can be a smart and savvy organic food shopper. Your body will thank you!

Gail Wikler, RD, CDN