11 May 2010

What to buy organic...

So, we all know eating organic is a good idea. As a whole I think we can also agree that it can get expensive. So when do you pay the extra for organic, and when can you buy the conventional without feeling like you're poisoning your family? Luckily for us, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) offers a handy guide for the 12 worst pesticide offenders (called the “Dirty Dozen”) and the top 15 safest foods (the “Clean Fifteen”). They offer a handy printable list here.

Last week, the EWG released its 6th list, following the USDA'a 200+ page pesticide report, released in December of last year. The produce is tested in the forms that they are typically eaten in: washed, peeled, etc. Even washed (and sometimes peeled!) many foods still have residues of several toxic chemicals. (See the EWG's method on their dedicated site for the list here).

The worst offenders The better options
The Dirty Dozen The Clean Fifteen
  1. Celery
  2. Peaches
  3. Strawberries 
  4. Apples
  5. Blueberries
  6. Nectarines
  7. Bell Peppers
  8. Spinach
  9. Kale
  10. Cherries
  11. Potatoes
  12. Grapes (Imported)
  1. Onions
  2. Avocado
  3. Sweet Corn
  4. Pineapple
  5. Mangos
  6. Sweet Peas
  7. Asparagus
  8. Kiwi
  9. Cabbage
  10. Eggplant
  11. Cantaloupe
  12. Watermelon
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Sweet Potato
  15. Honeydew

Now, I was introduced to these in a workshop last year being run by my gym's resident nutritionist/R.D. One concern that crossed my mind was “OK, fine, some foods have a thick skin, like bananas, and you're SAYING they're safe from pesticide residue, but if the pesticides get into the soil, and the plant absorbs nutrients from that soil, well, couldn't that get into the food?” So I find 2 entries on these lists especially interesting: potatoes, and sweet potatoes.

Regular potatoes are listed among the absolute worst conventional produce, with high levels of pesticides even after washing and peeling. They have clearly absorbed chemicals from their surrounding soil. And then you have sweet potatoes, apparently one of the cleanest foods you can buy. That would serve to indicate that my initial concern is null. The clean produce is thoroughly some of the safest you can buy, and not just because they have a thick skin. I am encouraged now knowing that even though the cleaner foods have a thick skin, that wasn't the criteria that got them placed on the list.

Some other foods that are highly recommended to purchase organic, especially for young children and expectant mothers:

  • Peanut Butter: Buy the all-natural stuff. Not only is it pesticide and chemical free, it doesn't have the added hydrogenated fats or sugar. If you (or your kid) are eating a PB&J, do you really need the extra sugar?
  • Milk: In addition to avoiding growth-hormones, organic milk offers significantly higher levels of heart-healthy fatty acids and other nutrients
  • Ketchup: Not only do you avoid the crap they spray on during the tomatoes' growth, you also avoid added sugar and artificial flavors that conventional ketchups have. Plus, ketchup is one of the best sources out there for lycopene, a powerful antioxident.
One final thought, from my brain to yours. Again, we can all agree that organics are often significantly more expensive than their conventional counterparts. But maybe it's worth it to rethink your budget to include the organics, because in the end, what's more important: 50 more cable channels you never watch anyway, or the food with which you fuel your very existence? What's your health worth?

Think about it.

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