Updated: Oct 24, 2022
Is spending more for organic food worth it or is it just a waste of money?
The short answer is yes, you need to put your money where your health is WHERE YOU ARE ABLE, but you don’t need to buy organic everything.
Organic foods are usually better not only for your health, but also for the environment. But they're often hard on your wallet: The USDA found the costs of organic fruits and vegetables typically run more than 20% higher than conventional produce. But it may lower your exposure to chemicals and artificial ingredients. Some basic information can help you make the smartest choices for your budget and the health of your family.
What “Organic” Means
The term refers to the way a food is grown, handled, and processed. These practices are meant to protect the environment. The government has strict standards for its “USDA Organic” seal: Produce must be grown without the use of most conventional pesticides, fertilizers that aren’t naturally made, sewage sludge, radiation, and genetically modified organisms. Animals can’t be given antibiotics or hormones.
The labeling can be confusing. The government oversees the use of these terms:
100 Percent Organic: All the ingredients are certified organic.
Organic: At least 95% of the ingredients are certified organic.
Made With Organic Ingredients: At least 70% of the ingredients are certified organic.
Other labels, such as “all-natural” and “farm-raised,” aren’t regulated, so they don’t mean much.
The Truth About Pesticides
This may come as a surprise, but organic food isn’t necessarily pesticide-free. Organic farmers aren’t allowed to use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. But they can apply ones made from natural ingredients, which can still be dangerous for your health. If your diet includes a variety of produce, you're less likely to get a big dose of one single pesticide.
Here’s where it matters.
Bugs love to nosh on produce as much as you do. Fruits and veggies without a protective layer are the easiest for pests to prey on and therefore the most heavily treated with toxic pesticides. Pesticides kill organisms so they are literal poison. So of course you want to try to avoid eating what came in direct contact with chemical-sprayed food.
Why don't you go into toxic shock when you eat these toxins? Because the human body is divinely and incredibly made, and your trusty liver does a lot of the detox work. But you need to help reduce the load because, frankly the liver has quite a lot to deal with already.
When choosing organic produce, the Environmental Working Group puts out some handy guidelines on what to choose and what to avoid.
The Dirty Dozen
Think Thin Skinned. If you are eating the skin of the food, and it grows above the ground, GO ORGANIC.
The most popular produce that takes the heavy pesticide load are leafy greens, berries, apples, grapes and peppers.
Here are the 12 things you definitely want to spend the extra money on to buy organic because they were contaminated with the most pesticides.
Strawberries (and Raspberries, Blueberries, Blackberries)
Kale, Collard, Mustard Greens
Bell Peppers, Hot Peppers
These are my Dishonorable Mentions that seem to go hand in hand with the rest of the list:
everything in the lettuce/Leafy green and family including the second and third cousins.
It’s a paradox to eat a salad for the health benefits if the liver has to do a whole bunch of heavy lifting before it can even get to the vitamins and minerals.
I’d rather spend the extra buck on the organic than have my hormones disrupted more than they already freaking are. Yes, it can add up, but the more organic items that consumers purchase creates more accessibility and lower prices. Do what you can.
These are the cleanest, or found to have the lowest amount of pesticide residues.
Notice that most of them have pretty thick skins:
Avocados, Sweet Corn, Pineapple, Onions, Papaya, Kiwi, Sweet peas (frozen), Eggplant
Asparagus (surprised and psyched about this one), Broccoli (and this one)
Cabbage, Cauliflower, Mushrooms, Honeydew Melon & Cantaloupes
The words you‘re looking to avoid are anything other than the meat and salt. If you see the following ingredients: sodium erythorbate, nitrites, corn syrup, propylene glycol, dextrose, phosphates, monosodium glutamate (MSG). These ingredients all indicate cheap processing methods that meat producers use to get extended shelf life by pumping the meat full of preservatives.
We hear so much about the health benefits of fish so all fish is healthy, right? Yeah, No.
Wild Caught Fish (vs. Farm-raised)
This one is pretty easy to understand and remember
The reason fish is so healthy is because of the omega 3s that are produced when fish eat the organisms in the ocean or sea.
Farm-raised fish are commercially raised in controlled pens that exist within lakes, oceans or rivers, and of course factories. This is done to increase production and make fish cheaper for consumers. They are fed GMO grain which is one of the worst things you can consume. Click here to read why. Because of this diet, farmed fish are naturally a sort of gray color so they are pumped with dyes to make them look the color we think they should.
At first you’re going to pop your eyeballs out at the price difference on this one, but trust me. It’s a no-brainer. Go to warehouse stores and get it frozen. Make sure it says WILD CAUGHT and stock up when it's on sale
GRASS-FED & ORGANIC MEATS
Why is this new phrase, "grass-fed beef" popping up everywhere? Because
it's way better to eat meat from an animal that was humanely raised and pasture grazed as opposed to one that lives in pen and is fed genetically modified corn and soy feed.
Everyone is raising chickens these days which is pretty cool. If you know someone who sells these eggs or a local farm market has them, this is usually your best option. Ask what they fee their hens and listen for soy-free and corn free.
If you are buying eggs in the grocery store, cage-free, pasture-raised and organic are the best option. It matters what the animals you are eating ate themselves because of course we are consuming it, too.
Whether you go totally organic or choose to mix conventional and organic foods, keep these tips in mind:
Choose a variety of foods from a mix of sources. You'll get a better variety of nutrients and lower your chance of exposure to a single pesticide.
Buy fruits and vegetables in season when you can. To get the freshest produce, ask your grocer what is in season. Or buy food from your local farmers market.
Read food labels carefully. Just because a product says it's organic or has organic ingredients doesn't mean it's a healthier choice. Some organic products may still be high in sugar, salt, fat or calories.
Wash and scrub fresh fruits and vegetables well under running water. Washing helps remove dirt, germs and chemical traces from fruit and vegetable surfaces. But you can't remove all pesticide traces by washing. Throwing away the outer leaves of leafy vegetables can lessen contaminants. Peeling fruits and vegetables can remove contaminants but may also cut nutrients.