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. And I never want someone to not eat healthy just because they can’t afford healthy foods that are also organic.
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)
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Snap Peas
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
Here are some other foods you should consider purchasing organic
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.
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. 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. And don’t stop at just purchasing organic tofu, tempeh or miso. Know that many vegetarian fake meat products also contain high levels of GMO soy as well.
My wish would be that all who eat meat could have 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 you’ll get the big payoff in choosing organic, grass-fed beef. (Note: organic or pasture-raised does not mean 100% grass fed. Only beef labeled as such fits those qualifications.)
I’ll admit it. For years, I never thought twice 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 next. 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.
Just like with soy, corn in the U.S. is sprayed heavily with pesticides and is mostly GMO. There is some talk the blue corn may still be non-GMO. However, due to cross-contamination, much of blue corn is 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
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas (frozen)
- Sweet Potatoes
These are foods where you won’t get the best bang for your buck when purchasing organic.
As always, do the best you can in purchasing healthy food products. We don’t all have the same resources or have 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 much more health supportive. So make healthy choices, but spend your money on organic food in places where it will have the strongest impact.
Carol Cassara says
I’ve seen versions of this list before. I didn’t now they changed year to year.
The dirty dozen changes every year. The foods I added stay pretty consistent as problematic.
Shann Eva says
Great tips! I honestly never thought about organic coffee or soy, but that totally makes sense. I try to buy as much Organic food as we can afford, but when I can’t, it’s good to know what to focus on. Thank you!
Buying all organic is great. i wish it weren’t so expensive. That is when knowing where to focus really helps.
I usually buy organic everything just to be safe!
How lucky you can afford to buy all organic.
What a great topic! thanks for the list, I am constantly spending money on organic foods, and wondered whether there are foods I don’t necessarily NEED to buy organic vs some that SHOULD be bought organic… I didn’t think of coffee being an important one! I’ll look into that, thanks!
Coffee really is important. Especially because so many of us drink so much of it!
Heather with WELLFITandFED says
It is great to review the list every year! Thank you for sharing! 🙂
Well, the dirty dozen does change every year. The things I added like soy, dairy and coffee aren’t on the dirty dozen because they aren’t fruit or vegetable. So it is important to be aware beyond the dirty dozen yearly update.
Jenn Slavich says
Thanks for sharing this. The more that is shared and done the more things will change. I am glad to see things starting to move in the right direction. Organic food is so important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Thanks!
Yes, awareness is the first step and is such an important first step in whatever way you’re trying to be healthy.
Erica – great information that gets me angry every time. It is SO WRONG that people don’t have automatic access to healthy food – this should be available to everyone, not just the wealthy. When I hear about this I often wonder what foods the Monsanto people eat – obviously it has to be organic.
I recently read about apples in particular – did you know that one of the sprays they use on apples is similar (or the same thing) as agent orange, the nerve gas used in wars?
When you think about the health problems and increased cost and demand for health care, you do wonder why governments don’t step in to stop this practice.
I believe that part of what makes organic so expensive is the cost in growing things naturally (and the loss that comes in not using pesticides) as well as the cost to actually be certified as organic. I believe the only way that we can go back to a life where we aren’t all ingesting pesticides is for most people to be organically growing their own vegetables.
Donna Janke says
I knew about some of the items on the dirty dozen list but not all. And I had never thought about coffee in terms of organic or not. This is useful information to help us decide where to focus our spending on organic. It seems so wrong to me that the organic and healthy food costs so much more.
We are one of the first generations to buy everything at grocery stores. There is always a price that comes with mass production, and in this case it is exposure to pesticides. For that reason, it is important to be aware.
We often need to be reminded which foods to stay clear of. It is worth spending more to eat well as we are putting this food into our bodies.
If you can to buy some things organic, it definitely is helpful.
Ken Dowell says
Thanks for this list. It’s very helpful. I usually try to buy organic dairy products, pounltry and meat and whenver possible buy fruit and vegetables at farmers markets. I’ve always had some suspicion however, that for many products the organic label was more about marketing than food quality or healthfulness. Surprised to see coffee on the list.
If it is USDA Certified Organic, that it must meet strict qualification for organic foods. If a food product says “made with organic ingredients”, that is more of a marketing ploy and only a small portion of the ingredients need to be organic. And if you purchase, “organic cookies”, they are still cookies at the end of the day.
Marquita Herald says
This is really interesting Erica. Living where I do, I’m definitely one of those with some challenges. Organic is expensive enough, but then add the cost of shipping and it’s pretty amazing what you can spend here on just a handful of groceries. But it does help to have priorities so this is really helpful.
I’m lucky living in Southern California where so much food is grown. It definitely is much more difficult when you live someplace more isolated. You can only do your best with where you live.
Rose Mary Griffith says
Thanks for explaining and including the lists–I am very neglectful of buying organic simply because of the huge price differences. I love when the farmer’s markets start in May–there are a few at our neighborhood market that are organic. There is a large market in Pittsburgh’s Strip District that is all organic. Love to get their vegetables, cheeses, mushrooms. So tasty.
I still buy organic strawberries and blueberries because they tend to taste a lot better than commercially raised berries. Though most blueberries the Boise area taste great since we’re right next door to Oregon. When I lived in NC, the blueberry situation was so lacking. I used to buy a lot more organic food, especially milk because it will last a lot longer. Yet, the ultimate factor is budget. I have to be a lot more careful now with money, and organic food was one of the first things to go.
I will only buy organic avocados in winter for the same reason that you buy organic blueberries. Avocados aren’t high in pesticides, yet when I buy a non-organic avocado in winter, it is always brown inside. When I buy an organic avocado, it is actually green and usable. During avocado season, I’ll switch back to non-organic.
Yes, last week I argued with a friend and insisted him to go for organic green tea over the ordinary ones.
It is true organic food items are a bit costly but there are some areas where we cannot compromise and need to spend a few extra bucks in order to gain good health.
The list you have shared here is a good one.
If you can afford organic, it definitely can be helpful. I still think its worthwhile to eat fruits and vegetables if organic isn’t an option. but if it is, organic is the way to go with many foods.
This is a great list, especially since I can use it when I buy treats for my kids. I’m going to print it out and have it on my desk. :} this way others will know about the what organic food are important to buy.