Choosing Organic Produce

Let’s talk dirty.

As we embark on our journey to health, there will inevitably be some talk of “eating clean.” What does that mean?

“Eating clean” is often used as a catch-all term to describe unprocessed, whole foods. The way we all know we should be eating but have such a hard time doing. Yet I would also like to suggest it can also mean that your food literally is clean, i.e. free of pesticides.

You may have heard of “organic” food. It’s this thing health food stores invented to sell you products at five times the cost of ones you can buy at your local grocer, mini-mart, what have you. Nothing you should waste your money on.

Or is it?

Pesticides and herbicides are chemicals, natural or man-made, that kill living creatures. You are a living creature. Your kids are living creatures.  The people who work in the fields where your food is grown are living creatures.  Not to mention the damage it does to the environment.

Yes, you wash your fruits and vegetables before you eat them. Not all of the pesticide residues are washed off though. Soft produce can absorb the pesticides and some of them are actually distributed  throughout the plant.  As you work to clean up your diet, I’d hate to see you sabotage yourself by eating produce coated in toxins.

Organic food can get expensive though, and depending on where you live, can be hard to find.  I am lucky enough to live where I can subscribe to a year round CSA and shop farmer’s markets in January, but I know many of you don’t. So what should you do?

The Environmental Working Group has tested common produce for pesticide residue and published a list of “the dirty dozen” and “the clean 15.” In general, you should avoid conventionally grown produce in the dirty dozen and opt instead for the organic version whenever possible. To save you some money and making shopping a bit easier, the clean 15 are relatively safe to buy in the conventional form if you don’t have access to, or can’t afford, the organic ones.

Here is a link to the list: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary

You can print it out and stick it in your wallet, there is an iPhone ap as well.

Dirty Dozen – buy organic whenever possible:

  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

Please note that although only imported nectarines and grapes made it in the 12, the domestic versions are not that much better. I would go organic with all grapes and stone fruit.

The Clean 15:

  1. Onions

  2. Sweet Corn

  3. Pineapples

  4. Avocado

  5. Asparagus

  6. Sweet Peas

  7. Mangos

  8. Eggplant

  9. domestic Cantaloupe

  10. Kiwi

  11. Cabbage

  12. Watermelon

  13. Sweet Potatoes

  14. Grapefruit

  15. Mushrooms

If you want to do a bit more investigation, or want to scare yourself into buying organic as much as humanly possible, check out www.whatsonmyfood.org where you can look at individual foods and see what pesticides may be lurking on them and how dangerous they are. They have an iPhone ap as well.

Some suggestions for finding affordable organics:

Shop in season. Right now organic kale is going to be a lot easier to find and cheaper than organic strawberries.

When you are at the farmer’s market ask how the produce was grown. Don’t be afraid of produce that is organically grown, but not certified organic. It costs a lot money to get organic certification, but more and more small farmers are using organic practices.

I’ve noticed that ethnic markets sometimes have great deals on organic produce. When I find them, I’ll stock up.

If you are lucky enough to have a Trader Joe’s near you they have good prices on organics. Their everyday price on frozen fruit for example, is better than all but the best sales at regular grocery stores.

If you have something that you eat a lot of, splurge on the organic version. Go ahead and get the conventional if it’s something you hardly ever eat.

Try growing some of your own organic food. Start with a few herbs on a window sill and go from there. Lettuce and spinach can be grown rather quickly and don’t need much space. And how fun would it be to grow some tomatoes or strawberries?

English: A sign warning about pesticide exposure.

Image via Wikipedia

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