Do I Have to Eat Organic?

According to the Organic Trade Association, the average adult who does not eat organic is exposed to between 6 & 12 pesticides each day from food and beverages.

Organic foods have become very popular.  Sure there is a noticeable difference in price, but are organic foods healthier?  Are pesticides harmful?  How do I identify an organic food?

These are great questions.  Some that I wanted to find out.  There are certain items that I always buy organic, like strawberries, bell peppers, celery, apples, zucchini, and eggs.  But what about other items?  Is it worth getting the organic version?

Organic food is regulated by strict government standards.  These foods are grown without synthetic fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic hormones or genetic engineering (GMO).  Apparently, organic is the “most heavily regulated and closely monitored production system in the United States”. 

For a food to be labeled organic, the ingredients must be at least 95% organic.  Food with ingredients that are at least 70% organic can use the “made with organic ingredients” label.  Foods that have less than 70% organic ingredients cannot use the organic seal or the word “organic” on the label.  One hundred percent organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy are free of artificial growth hormones and antibiotics.  Fish isn’t controlled by the USDA, so look for “wild” caught rather than “farmed” to be safe.

So are organic foods healthier?  A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that organic crops had higher concentrations of antioxidants and other potentially beneficial compounds.  But organic produce did not consistently contain higher levels of vitamins.

Another study also found that organic meat and dairy have a higher percentage (about 50% more) of omega-3 fatty acids than conventional.  Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial and have many health improving benefits.

One of the main reasons I choose organic produce is to avoid pesticides, but organic farmers still use pesticides.  The only difference is that they are natural vs. synthetic.  Natural pesticides are believed to be less toxic.  Due to lots of years of exposure, most people have a build-up of pesticide chemicals in their body known as “body burden” that can lead to health issues.  Children and pregnant women are more vulnerable to pesticide exposure.  Lowering my family’s exposure to harmful pesticides is worth it in my opinion.

Organic or Non-organic. Which should I buy? Click To Tweet

Can I wash and peel away pesticides?  Rinsing lessens the residue but doesn’t remove it all.  Peeling is helpful, but a lot of beneficial nutrients are in the peel, so you’d be losing those important nutrients.

Have you heard of the “dirty dozen” and the “clean fifteen”?  There are foods, that when conventionally grown, have much higher levels of pesticides and should be avoided.  Then there are also foods that are relatively low in pesticides and are fine to buy non-organic.

Here are the Dirty Dozen:

*strawberries * spinach * nectarines * apples * peaches * pears * cherries* grapes* celery* tomatoes * sweet bell peppers* potatoes*

Here are the Clean Fifteen:

*sweet corn *avocados * pineapple * cabbage * onions * sweet peas frozen * papayas *asparagus * mangos * eggplant * honeydew melon * kiwi * cantaloupe * cauliflower * grapefruit*   (to avoid GMO’s buy organic sweet corn and papayas)

These lists, which are updated annually, can be found on the Environmental Working Group website.

When looking to purchase organic foods, look for the USDA Organic label.  Produce at the grocery store has a label with a number on it.  If it begins with the #9, it is organic.  There are still plenty of “junk” foods labeled organic, such as baked good, snacks, and desserts.  Just because a product is organic, doesn’t mean it’s a health food!  Read those labels carefully.

So, do I have to eat organic?  When it comes to overall health, what we eat is more important than if it’s organic or conventional.  Most Americans don’t eat the recommended amount of vegetables and fruits.  Any is better than none!

If you are wanting to reduce your pesticide exposure, buying the organic items on the dirty dozen list is a good place to start.  Farmer’s markets are a good option too.  Also, local farmers may be organic but do not have the money to make it “official”.  Just ask the farmer.  Buying in season helps with keeping cost down.  Shop around to get the best prices.  There are always budget friendly ways to buy organic.

Ultimately, it’s important to stay up to date and educated on organic foods to get the most value and nutrition for your money!

Are you concerned about pesticides?

Do you buy organic foods?

8 Responses to Do I Have to Eat Organic?

  1. Debbie says:

    I try to buy organic when possible. Thank goodness Aldi’s has a great selection of organic produce at good prices.

  2. Kimberly G says:

    I try to buy organic when I can and when it’s on sale. There are certain fruits that I do not buy organic, like bananas and mangos, because of their outer layer protection.

  3. I do buy organic with some things but often I just buy which looks more fresh

  4. Rachel says:

    I eat mostly organic. But when I start questioning produce, for example, I use the EWG Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen list to check what I absolutely need to get organic and what can pass for conventional.

    I also used to only shop for organic packaged foods but now I try to avoid them whenever possible anyway. Fresh fruits and veggies are preferable, as you know.