17 Foods You Should Always Buy Organic
Going organic is pricey, so pick the groceries worth the extra cash
In a perfect world, you would eat all organic everything. The more organic food you eat, the less sketchy chemicals you’re ingesting—namely, pesticides, which by their very definition are designed to kill other living things. And while we aren’t weeds or bugs feeding on crops, we do eat the produce that end up being sprayed with the stuff.
That’s a big deal, since research has linked the ingestion of pesticides to ADHD in children, a lower sperm count in young healthy men, and fertility issues, but more research needs to be done to fully understand those links.
Because various types of pesticides can make their way to your food, you might be taking in a cocktail of chemicals. These mixtures may increase your risk of gene mutation and halt your body’s ability to repair damaged DNA, which has been linked to an increased cancer risk, according to a report from the University of California Los Angeles.
Going organic won’t completely eliminate your exposure to these chemicals, but depending on the foods you pick, it can help. For instance, a large meta-analysis from Stanford University Medical Center found that organic fruits and vegetables didn’t really differ in nutritional quality compared to conventional produce, but they did have a 30 percent lower risk of pesticide contamination.
The problem? Organic food is pricey. Knowing what foods to splurge on can get tricky, but a good rule of thumb is to look out for produce that is more likely to have pesticide residues, explains Gary Adamkiewicz, assistant professor of environmental health and exposure disparities at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, meaning lots of produce should top your list.
When you’re navigating the grocery store, keep the following foods in mind if you’re looking to go organic. They won’t be hard to find — look for the “USDA Organic” sticker.
1 STRAWBERRIES, SPINACH, AND NECTARINES
A good place to start, Adamkiewicz says, is with the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) list of produce ranked by how many pesticides are in them, categorized as the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. The EWG compiles these lists each year based on 36,000 samples of produce collected by the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The samples are taken as the food is typically consumed, so after it’s been washed and, in some cases, peeled.
Strawberries rank number one on EWG’s most recent list of of the Dirty Dozen because they had the most pesticide residue. More than 98 percent of strawberry samples had pesticide residue, and a single sample of strawberries showed 20 different pesticides, according to the EWG.
Spinach comes in second place, as these samples had twice as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop on average. Nectarines follow at number three, 98 percent of which showed pesticide residue.
2 APPLES, PEACHES, PEARS, CHERRIES, AND GRAPES
Apples rank fourth on the EWG’s list of the Dirty Dozen. Their thin skin is the culprit here, explains Rachel Roberts, R.D., a dietitian at Detroit Medical Center’s Your New Self Weight Loss Solutions Program.
“The rule of thumb is to choose organic fruits and vegetables with a thin skin, such as apples, strawberries, and celery, and non-organic vegetables with thick skins, like pineapples and melons,” she says.
That’s why peaches, pears, cherries, and grapes also make the Dirty Dozen list. They’re thin-skinned fruits you might not think twice about biting right into.
3 CELERY, TOMATOES, POTATOES, BELL PEPPERS, AND HOT PEPPERS
These pantry staples also have thin skins, meaning they don’t have as much of a protective barrier against pesticides, says Roberts.
Peeling foods can help, but it may not eliminate all of the pesticides on your produce, according to Consumer Reports. Some pesticides are actually absorbed through the plant’s roots, meaning they might end up in the flesh of your food. Plus, the skin is loaded with beneficial nutrients.
A good wash (with a vegetable brush like this one) is still encouraged, even if you buy organic.
4 PEANUT BUTTER
If you’re buying peanut butter with only one or two ingredients (hint: they should just be peanuts and salt), then it’s a pretty healthy fat source when you keep your portion size in check.
But Roberts says to go organic for an even better option. “Peanut butter should be purchased organically to avoid pesticides, which permeate the thin outer shells of peanuts,” she says. “Non-organic peanut butters can be high in pesticides or fungus and often use fats, sugar, and sometimes hydrogenated oils to increase shelf life.” Check out this creamy light roasted variety from Santa Cruz.
Aside from fruits and vegetables, Adamkiewicz says there isn’t as much evidence for pesticides in meat and dairy. Although he personally likes to spend his money on organic milk, it’s not as necessary for consumers as the Dirty Dozen.
Still, the USDA requirements for organic meat require that livestock aren’t given hormones or antibiotics, are raised in conditions that mimic their natural behaviors (such as being able to graze on a pasture), and are fed 100 percent organic feed.
“Organic agriculture makes a lot of sense for the environment and for health. This extends to livestock-derived foods, even though we don’t have a lot of studies that show differences in chemical residues between organic and conventional milk specifically,” Adamkiewicz says.
Roberts recommends choosing organic poultry, like chicken and turkey, if you have the extra cash to dish out. We like this organic chicken breast from Perdue Harvestland, and these roasted turkey breast slices from Organic Prairie.
The same USDA standards for livestock apply to pork.
“Organic poultry and pigs are given foods with no synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers, which contributes to improved animal health and less environmental impact,” Roberts explains.
She adds: “Non-organic meats differ in regard to the amount of antibiotic use during production. Antibiotic overuse in conventional meat can lead to an increase in treatment-resistant bacterial infections in humans.”
Pork Skewers With Fresh Herb Sauce:
“The fatty acid composition in organic animal products is far better; the levels of omega-3 fatty acids [in organic beef] are approximately 50 percent higher, which is beneficial for lowering the risk of heart disease,” Roberts says, potentially because they may help fight inflammation in your body.
It’s also raised without hormones or antibiotics. Check out this grass-fed beef from Organic Prairie.
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