Once limited to health-food stores, organic products have now become so widespread that they can be found in the average grocery store. They may be ubiquitous, but they’re also more expensive.
According to WebMD, consumers can expect to pay as much as 50-100 percent more for organic foods. Part of this increase can be attributed to higher production costs, as organic products do have to comply with standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Another factor is perception: Consumers typically believe organic foods to be healthier, and more sustainable, and so expect to pay a little extra.
If one’s goal in buying organic is to eat more sustainably, cheaper options, such as buying local or seasonal produce, are just as effective as buying organic. Rather than shell out for organic products that have been shipped in, you can learn more about sustainable, local eating at simplesteps.org
If the goal is to reduce exposure to pesticides, there are steps you can take to determine whether it’s worth the extra cost.
One easy place to save money is on fruits and vegetables that have thick peels or rinds that protect from pesticide contamination. Foods such as avocados, onions, pineapples, sweetcorn, mangoes, kiwis, and even quinoa have all been found to be low in pesticides and are naturally insect resistant, reducing the need for chemical additives. Also save on broccoli, papayas, asparagus, and bananas.
Unlike most foods, the USDA does not regulate use of the term “organic” on seafood labels, so be wary of brands using the term. Instead, choose fish with low mercury contamination that is sustainably harvested, such as herring, flounder, tilapia, trout, wild salmon, or lobster produced in North America.
Avoid shark, farmed salmon, tuna, imported swordfish and canned crab. More information can be found at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
In order to be certified as organic, eggs, meat, and poultry must be sourced from animals that have never received antibiotics or growth hormones. Truly organic meats can be difficult to find, so be wary of labels and carefully prepare foods at home. This guide can help locate restaurants and grocery stores that carry organic meats and poultry.
To sum up: It’s worth spending a little extra for organic on thin-skinned fruits that absorb pesticides and other chemical additives more easily. Fruits such as peaches, apples, cherries, strawberries, nectarines, and pears have all been found to contain high percentages of chemical contaminants and are not naturally resistant to insects. Vegetables worth splurging on include bell peppers, celery, spinach, potatoes, and lettuce.
Even when buying organic produce, the best way to reduce pesticide exposure is to thoroughly clean and prepare food before consumption. Wash fruits and vegetables under streaming water to remove excess dirt, residues, and bacteria. Remove not only the peels from fruits and vegetables, but the outer leaves of leafy greens as well. For meat and poultry products, trim visible fat and skin, as pesticide residues can collect in fat trimmings.
Photo: Take Back Your Health Conference 2015 via Flickr