What does organic mean? To earn the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic certification, the land must be free from prohibited substances such as synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and other toxins for at least three years.
For most, organic means less processed or unprocessed foods. The top reasons for organic usage are the absence of pesticides and growth hormones. Consuming fewer pesticides and growth hormones is a good idea, but, are organic foods any healthier than conventionally grown produce?
“There have been a couple of studies that suggest some produce may have larger amounts of certain nutrients,” says registered dietitian Sue Moores, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “Organic practices affect how food is grown and, in some cases, that may yield more nutrition.”
Families on a tight budget may have difficulty making the shift to organic. Sorry to say, many times organic foods cost more than conventionally grown foods. Despite the health and environmental benefits, buying all organic for some families isn’t an option.
With the price of everything going up, the expense can be the hardest obstacle to overcome. Which foods should you buy organically and which conventionally grown foods can you get by with?
Produce: Organic fruits and vegetables are grown without pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Some produce such as apples, berries, green beans, and spinach are more susceptible to pests. Naturally, they’re more heavily sprayed with pesticides, than worry-free produce like bananas, oranges, and broccoli. When making purchasing decisions, it makes sense to purchase organic produce that conventional growing methods are more likely to be heavily treated with pesticides.
There is another benefit to eating organic produce without pesticides. When plants aren’t coated in pesticides to help fight off disease, they develop stronger compounds to protect themselves. If you eat that produce, you get those disease-fighting compounds, too. What’s more, organic produce often has better flavor than conventionally grown foods. Since organic produce may be locally grown, they ripen later and are picked at their peak instead of being picked early to ensure survival during shipping.
When your budget is too tight for all organics, purchase conventionally grown produce with thick skins. Fruit such as pineapples, avocadoes, bananas, and citrus like oranges, lemons, and limes, all have thick skins, which are not eaten but discarded. When you throw away the outside, you’re throwing away many of the pesticides.
According to a study done by the Environmental Working Group, the top 6 most pesticide-laden foods when grown conventionally are peaches, strawberries, apples, spinach, nectarines, and celery. These might be on your must have organic list. Also, you can save when you purchase organic produce at big box stores like Costco and Sam’s Club or a farmers’ market.
Meat: A concern with eating conventionally produced meat is the hormones and antibiotics given to the cattle. Conventionally raised animals are pumped with these substances to enhance growth, increase milk production, and prevent disease. Unfortunately, these substances are then passed to people through the animals’ fat cells.
Purchasing low-fat meats may reduce your exposure to these chemicals, but buying organic guarantees a product free of hormones and antibiotics. And animals raised organically can’t feed on genetically altered grains or on land treated with chemicals. Another huge benefit.
Dairy: What sets organic milk apart is what the cows eat: Grain that has not been genetically altered and they are fed feed free of animal byproducts. Plus, these animal are also free from hormones and antibiotics.
In terms of nutritional benefit, a study from England found that organic milk has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which boost health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, than non-organic milk.
Other studies have shown organic milk has higher levels of vitamin E and other antioxidants, as well as minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium and chromium.
Without a doubt, organic eggs are a good nutritional buy. Eggs from hens raised on pasture contain more omega-3 fatty acids, beta carotene, and vitamins A and E.
Processed foods: The majority of packaged crackers, cookies, and chips contain a component from a genetically modified crop such as canola, soy and, corn oils, cornstarch, and high fructose corn syrup. Genetic modification involves gene transfer between plants or animals to yield a crop with increased production and greater resistance to spoilage. If you want to stay healthy and save dollars, don’t purchase processed foods.
The Bottom line: If going organic 100 percent of the time isn’t an option for you, choose the most affordable and sensible foods for your unique circumstances.
Organic dairy, for example, may be the most reasonable option if you have children. The Hartman Group research indicates having children is the most significant reason to go organic. In fact, anyone whose immunity is compromised (i.e., cancer or HIV) should consider eating organic products.
It pays for you to ask questions and to learn more about the foods your family eats. Learn how they were grown and how they arrived on your plate. There’s no time like the present!
There’s more…Whole Foods on a Food Stamp Budget, Click Here.