Jumping On the Wagon: When "Organic" Really Matters

Heather Reese Health Guide
  • It seems like everyone is buying organic these day and telling you that you should too – if you don’t already. In the past eating organic was a real strain on your wallet because these foods cost a lot more. But with large supermarket chains like Giant selling reasonably priced organic foods, more and more people are able to enjoy these items.

    The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) outlines specific guidelines that dictate what foods can be considered organic. Fruits, vegetables and grains must be grown without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers or radiation to be called organic. Meats, poultry, eggs and dairy products that are labeled organic must come from animals that are not given antibiotics or growth hormones.
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    Organic foods are not processed and do not include artificial ingredients or preservatives. For food to be labeled organic, it must be examined by a government-approved agency. This agency inspects the farm and all growing practices to ensure that the food meets all the USDA’s guidelines.

    When people talk about the health benefits of organic foods – they typically focus on the pesticides used to grow fruits and vegetables in conventional farming. Farmers can choose from 400 chemicals to use to kill weeds, insects and other pests that attack crops. Several studies have linked these pesticides to cancer, infertility and neurological diseases. While washing and peeling your fruits and vegetables can reduce the pesticide load, it does not eliminate them.

    Many farmers inject their livestock with growth hormones and antibiotics to speed up the growth and development of the animals. Studies have linked both of these to a resistance to antibacterial agents in humans.

    Despite all these reasons to go organic, it is not always worth spending the extra money for organic products. In fact, sometimes it’s not even beneficial to go organic. Below I will highlight the foods that you should buy organic and let you know which foods you don’t have to worry about.

    The Environmental Working Group, a watchdog group that advocates organic farming, outlines the 12 produce items that you should buy organic. These are the foods with the highest pesticide load, they are:
    • Peaches
    • Apples
    • Bell peppers
    • Celery
    • Nectarines
    • Strawberries
    • Cherries
    • Pears
    • Imported grapes
    • Spinach
    • Lettuce
    • Potatoes

    Buying organic meats and poultry products reduces your exposure to supplemental hormones and antibiotics. Experts recommend buying organic beef to reduce the risk of exposure to the agent that causes mad cow disease. And buying organic poultry, eggs and dairy products means that you will ingest fewer hormones and antibiotics.

    Since the USDA doesn’t have guidelines outlined for organic seafood it is not worth spending the extra money. The same is true for processed foods, which may have lower levels of contaminants, but do not offer any real health benefits.
Published On: January 19, 2007