Joe’s Journal: Day 19 – Do I Need Organic?

One of the many beauties of being in New York is the over abundance of fruits and vegetables. There are dozens of farmer’s markets, grocery stores and even corner stores that are fully stacked with heaps of vibrant produce. Some are organic and local and others are conventional and imported from all over the world. It’s a common debate…do I seek out organic and spend the extra few dollars or do I buy conventional? Again, I turned to the Reboot nutritionist Stacy Kennedy to help me out and answer my questions…

So what does organic actually mean?

“Organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process their products. Instead of using chemical weed killers, herbicides, insecticides, antibiotics and hormones, they use natural fertilizers, beneficial insects and birds, and rotate crops. Organic farmers allow outdoor access for animals and use preventive measures to deter disease.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) established an organic certificate program in 2002, giving the “organic” stamp of approval once strict government standards have been met. This label certifies the product is 95% or more “organic”.

However, obtaining this certificate can be a lengthy and pricey process so it is important to keep in mind the benefits of buying local, as some smaller farms or producers adhere to organic practices, but simply cannot afford to obtain the official distinction. Growing your own produce or getting to know your farmer may be more crucial then the organic stamp! This child’s experiment shows just how important it is to know what you are eating.

Why buy organic?

Some prefer the taste, while others address concerns for pesticides food additives, supporting local farming by reducing pollution and conserving water, and soil quality. More studies are being published showing higher levels of healthful nutrients and lower levels of harmful compounds in organic vs. conventional produce. Like this 2012 study that found organic spinach had significantly higher levels of Vitamin C and flavanoids and less nitrates compared to conventionally grown spinach.

What if I can’t find organic? 

The benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Just be sure to wash everything well, and when feasible, choose organic, local and seasonal produce as often as possible.

Isn’t organic more expensive? 

Buying Organic isn’t always cheap so if you’re concerned with the price it’s best to know which products are more likely to have a higher pesticide content for those concerned so you can try to buy those organic! The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released the “Dirty Dozen” or the top ranking products for pesticide residue. Your grocery cart doesn’t need to be all or nothing but try to stick to organic for at least your Dirty Dozen picks:

EWG’s Shopping Guide 

Dirty Dozen “most pesticide residue”
1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Imported nectarines
7. Imported Grapes
8. Sweet Bell Peppers
9. Potatoes
10. Domestic Blueberries
11. Lettuce
12. Kale/collard greens 

Clean Fifteen “lowest in pesticides”
1. Onion
2. Sweet Corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocados
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet Peas
7. Mangoes
8. Eggplant
9. Domestic Cantaloupe
10. Kiwifruit
11. Cabbage
12. Watermelon
13. Sweet potatoes
14. Grapefruit
15. Mushrooms

If you like to leave the peels on your lemons, limes, oranges, watermelons and other produce when you juice consider choosing organic for these as well. If you cut the rinds off then just washing before cutting will reduce pesticide exposure.

Okay, now can you give me some shopping tips? 

  • Buy produce in season (see Seasonal Chart)
  • Read food labels carefully (“organic” does not always mean “healthy” beware of sugar, fat, sodium in packaged foods)
  • Wash fresh produce thoroughly to remove dirt, bacteria, and pesticides
  • Wash well with: running water; or diluted vinegar (3 parts water to 1 part vinegar); or water, lemon, baking soda and diluted vinegar

Here’s an interesting article in the New York Times…they ask a fruit fly if organic is better!

Read my past journal entries and find out what you can win as part of our 2nd Anniversary celebrations.