I am sure it has crossed your mind at one time or another, “What does it really mean if a product is organic?” “Is it always necessary?”, “Is it better to eat conventional fruits and vegetables if no organic ones are available?”
Well, for most health conscious people these days, it is fairly agreed upon that organic is the way to go. But you may ask yourself why?
First off, choosing organic is better for the ecosystem in general, it is better for the farmers who grow the food, better for the animals, and it is most likely more nutritious. However, there are still misunderstandings about organic and how the term organic applies to our food and our gardening. So let us go over what organic really means, and how you can apply it towards your lifestyle!
Organic is a term that has been defined and controlled by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and has specific guidelines that the farmers must go by in order to become certified. These include restrictions on the use of chemicals or pesticides on the farm. If a product is organic, it must be labeled with the USDA ORGANIC seal which is pictured below, or printed "ORGANIC" with the serial number ALWAYS starting with a number 9 on the little produce sticker that is placed on all fruits and vegetables, also pictured below:
Other claims that something is organic without these, really provide no official proof that it has been certified by the USDA. This does not necessarily mean that organic produce has been proven to hold more nutritional value (though it is believed that they do), however studies are still inconclusive. The difference between organic and conventional produce, is the levels of toxins and pesticides that it contains, and the fact is, conventional produce is known to contain high levels of them. These chemicals are extremely bad for our systems, and what we do know for a fact is, overburdening our bodies with toxins is known to cause disease.
So what foods must be organic?
The are several groups out there that observe which foods are the highest “offenders”, or those that contain the most traces of pesticides. These are known as “The Dirty Dozen”. They also observe a list that includes which choices you can eat conventionally because they are least likely to have pesticides on them! These are known as “The Clean Fifteen”.
The Dirty Dozen
The top 12 foods that are known to contain the most pesticide residue are referred to as “The Dirty Dozen”. These should definitely be eaten organic! If organic is not available for these, we do not recommend buying conventionally, as these choices are really dirty. Our advice is, print this list out, laminate it, and stick it in your wallet or purse. One of our favorite lists for both “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Clean Fifteen” is put together by the Environmental Working Group and is available here for download:
We have also included both lists at the end of this article for you to copy and paste!
According to the EWG, their studies have shown that people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 80% simply by avoiding the top 12 most contaminated fruits and veggies and eating the least contaminated instead! Just to put it into perspective, eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables will expose a person to about 10 pesticides per day on average, while eating the least 15 contaminated will expose a persona to less than 2 pesticides per day.
So, without a doubt, using the guide provides people with a way to make choices that lower pesticide exposure in the diet!
The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List:
#10 Sweet Bell Peppers
#11 Cherry Tomatoes
The Environmental Working Group’s Clean Fifteen List:
#2 Sweet Corn*
#5 Sweet Peas Frozen
#12 Honeydew Melon
* A small amount of sweet corn, papaya and summer squash sold in the United States is produced from GE (Genetically Engineered or Modified) seedstock. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid GE produce.
We encourage you to be mindful about the choices you are making when you grocery shop! It will make all the difference!