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Organic Foods: Which Ones Are Worth The Money?

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The Dirty Dozen list put out by the Environmental Working Group includes foods with high pesticide levels - apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, snap peas and potatoes. Dairy, soy, beef, coffee and corn are on the extended list. If possible, buy organic versions of these foods.

There is a price that comes with telling people to buy organic foods.

And that price is more than just the up-charge that comes with anything organic. It is the reality that most of us are on a budget and that not all of us have access where we live, to good quality organic foods. I am totally against the idea of eating unhealthy foods, just because they can’t afford healthy organic food.

Having said that, there are foods that are more important to eat organic than others. This comes down to factors like how they are grown and how pesticides are absorbed by the food.

If you have a limited budget to spend on organic foods (which, let’s face it, most of us do), which organic foods should you focus on?

The Dirty Dozen

Most people know that there are fruits and vegetables which are more important to buy organic. Every year, the Environmental Working Group puts together two lists: The Dirty Dozen and The Clean 15.

The Dirty Dozen for 2015 (Foods that are most important to buy organic due to their high pesticide levels)

  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Spinach
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Snap Peas
  • Potatoes

The Dirty Dozen Plus includes Hot Peppers and Kale. While these two foods don’t necessary meet the criteria of the dirty dozen, they contain trace levels of highly toxic pesticides.

If you are picking and choosing limited food items to purchase organic, think beyond just fruits and vegetables. Here are a few more products from which you can receive great benefits from purchasing organic.

Beyond The Dirty Dozen

Dairy

Milk products are some of the most important to buy organic. Milk consumption isn’t right for everyone. But, if you drink dairy, it is important to know the hazards of conventional milk.

In the U.S., some factory farmed cows are fed growth hormones which may lead to long-term health problems in humans. Cows are also treated daily with antibiotics. The traces of antibiotics in milk subject dairy drinkers to antibiotic resistance as well as gut problems. Cows are often fed diets that are often heavy in pesticides and GMO products, which reduce the quality and safety of their milk. Additionally, factory farmed cows eat a junk food diet that creates nutritionally depleted milk. A cow that is eating a more nutrient-rich diet will create a more balanced milk product.

So, reserve your dollars for free-range dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt.

Soy

There is a constant debate about whether we should be eating soy. But, that isn’t what we’re talking about today. If you are going to eat soy, it is beneficial to look for organic options. Not only are soybeans heavily sprayed with pesticides, but 90% of U.S. grown soy is GMO. And while the long-term effects of GMO products are not really known, there are studies that show that GMO anti-nutrients can be destructive to health and have a negative impact on gene expression.

Don’t stop at just purchasing organic tofu, tempeh or miso. You should also be aware that many vegetarian fake meat products also contain high levels of GMO soy as well.

Beef

I wish all those who ate meat had access to reasonably priced, pasture-raised animals. This is best for humans, animals and the environment. Until that happens, focus on purchasing organic beef.

While there are regulations in place about the use of hormones in cattle, many manufacturers “cheat” and feed their cattle hormones that are risky for humans. There is also the same overuse of antibiotics in cattle raised for beef as with milking cows.

Choose 100% grass-fed beef, if possible. Research shows that a grass diet eaten by pasture raised cows can actually change the composition of the fat in the cows to a healthier version of fat. This is where the big payoff in organic, grass-fed beef is found. (Note: organic or pasture-raised does not mean 100% grass-fed. Only beef labeled as such fits those qualifications.)

Coffee

I’ll admit it. For years, I never thought about pesticides in coffee. But, the reality is that coffee beans are heavily sprayed. Coffee beans are easier to transport to store shelves throughout the world, than fresh produce. When we drink coffee, we often have many different countries to thank for the beans. And restrictions on pesticides vary greatly based on local regulations.

So, a pesticide that has been outlawed as cancer-causing in one country may be perfectly legal in the other. Choosing organic is the best way to assure that your coffee doesn’t contain toxins that have been directly linked to cancers and other health dangers. And brewing organic coffee at home is way more economical, than your Starbucks addiction.

Corn

Just like with soy, corn in the U.S. is sprayed heavily with pesticides and is mostly GMO. There is some talk that the blue corn may still be non-GMO. However, due to cross-contamination, much of blue corn can no longer be considered non-GMO. Purchasing organic and non-GMO is really the way to go, if possible.

But, there are plenty of foods that have less impact on health when purchased non-organic.

Take the example of the Clean 15. This is the list that is put out every year with the Dirty Dozen of foods that rank low in pesticides when tested.

The Clean 15 for 2015

  • Avocados
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapple
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet Peas (frozen)
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangos
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet Potatoes

As always, do the best you can in purchasing healthy food products. We all may not have the same resources or access to the same quality food products. But, if you have the ability to purchase some of your food from organic sources, this list is a great place to start.

Eating healthy fruits and vegetables is way better than eating junk foods, whether the food is  organic or not. But, purchasing certain foods organic makes those foods even more health supportive. Make healthy choices, but spend your money on organic food in places, where the impact may be the strongest.

Erica Mesirov

Erica earned her Master’s Degree in holistic nutrition in 2014. She works with people who struggle with eating right or losing weight and know they want to be healthy, but their attempts have come up empty. By helping people understand their individual body and the imbalances that are causing unhealthy patterns, she gives people the opportunity to feel good about eating again.

Erica Mesirov

Erica earned her Master’s Degree in holistic nutrition in 2014. She works with people who struggle with eating right or losing weight and know they want to be healthy, but their attempts have come up empty. By helping people understand their individual body and the imbalances that are causing unhealthy patterns, she gives people the opportunity to feel good about eating again.

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