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How Important Is It to Buy Organic?

When we go to the grocery store, those foods with organic certification certainly stick out. As consumers, we get the sense that organic foods and products are healthier for us, and for the environment. We also know that there will be an added price tagged on organic products.

Is the price tag worth it? How important is it to eat and buy organic foods and products over conventional ones?

Learn what an organic certification means, and which foods to pay special attention to when figuring out whether or not to choose organic.

What Does It Mean When a Product is “Organic”?

There are many organic certifications around the world, and the exact definitions and regulations change slightly depending on the certification entity and region. One of the most recognized ones, however, particularly in the United States, is the green USDA Organic label.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is the entity that regulates and certifies products that seek to be labeled as organic. There are volumes of descriptions of the standards with which producers and their products need to comply. However, as consumers, most of that information isn’t practical.

The USDA’s Consumer Brochure defines “organic” as follows:

  • Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.

  • Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.

  • Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.

  • Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.

  • The use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is prohibited in organic products

  • Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.


What are the Health Benefits of Consuming Organic?

Some of the health benefits of organic foods, or rather the avoidance of health problems caused by components in conventional farming and production techniques, are contested by commercial producers and skeptics. However, a report prepared for the European Parliament helps to answer some of the questions about organic foods.

Most of the health benefits are based on the avoidance of pesticides used in conventional farming since they are still present even after the fruit or vegetable is washed. Organic farming avoids pesticides altogether.

An interview with Philippe Grandjean, PhD, of the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, who co-authored the report, mentions that, even though different commissions defend the currents pesticide limits, the regulations are based on animal studies, and the human body and brain are much more complex than those of other animals. It seems that the impact of pesticides on brain health and development is the most concerning.

Other evidence shows that the avoidance of antibiotic use in meats and poultry is also a key health benefit. Overuse of antibiotics can result in antibiotic resistance, thus making it more and more difficult for us to protect our bodies against, and recover from, infections.

Additional advantages of choosing organic foods include potentially having higher contents of some nutrients, and less concentration of heavy metals like cadmium.

What are The Environmental Benefits of Organic Foods?

The benefits of organic production and farming practices to the environment are outlined by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO):

  • Sustainability over the long term: It produces food while establishing an ecological balance to prevent soil fertility or pest problems.

  • Improves soil formation and structure with soil building practices.

  • Keeps water clean and free of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

  • Helps slow climate change: Does not need high quantities of fossil fuels to be produced, and increases carbon in the soil, mitigating contribution of agriculture to climate change.

  • Promotes biodiversity: use of traditional and adapted seeds, and avoidance of GMO seeds.

Which Foods Should I Keep an Eye Out For?

Every year since 2014, the EWG has analyzed pesticide data published by the USDA to determine rankings of popular fresh produce items that are the “dirtiest” and “cleanest” in terms of pesticide residue.

The “Dirty Dozen”, or the 12 products with most pesticide concentration, are:

  1. Strawberries

  2. Spinach

  3. Nectarines

  4. Apples

  5. Peaches

  6. Pears

  7. Cherries

  8. Grapes

  9. Celery

  10. Tomatoes

  11. Sweet Bell Peppers

  12. Potatoes

Strawberries and blackberries

These are the foods that you should be buying organic, to avoid pesticide concentration.

The “Clean Fifteen” are those foods that have the lowest concentration of pesticide residue, and thus are less important to purchase organic. They include:

  1. Sweet corn

  2. Avocadoes

  3. Pineapples

  4. Cabbage

  5. Onions

  6. Frozen sweet peas

  7. Papayas

  8. Asparagus

  9. Mangos

  10. Eggplant

  11. Honeydew melon

  12. Kiwi

  13. Cantaloupe

  14. Cauliflower

organic mango

How important is it to eat organic? In short, it depends on the food. If you are worried about antibiotic resistance, choose organic meats. If you are convinced that pesticide residue to could be affecting your health, make sure to purchase organic options of the “Dirty Dozen”.

Informing yourself with credible information, and the most up-to-date research, like with this article, is key to making the best decisions for your health.


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