If you aren’t already buying organic food then you may question whether going organic is a fad or just another way for grocery stores to make more money. In today’s post I’ll share the basics about organic vs. conventional produce as well as where to get the best bang for your buck.
You may already believe that overall, buying organic food is better for you because it has been grown without synthetic additives such as pesticides and fertilizers. The bigger picture, though, is not that organic is better for you, but that conventionally grown foods are actually harmful for your body and your overall health and can create diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s disease.
Glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, a weed killer commonly sprayed on a variety of foods, was recently determined by a California Supreme Court to be a “probable carcinogen.” What does that mean? It means the substance they are spraying on our food has been proven in the court system to be linked to cancer. In order for produce to be considered organic it cannot be sprayed with Roundup or any other synthetic additives and therefore does not pose the risk of cancer like conventionally grown foods.
If you think about it, though, organic food is really just food our great-grandparents would have eaten. At that time there was no need to label something as organic because everything was organic. Conventional, or non-organic food is a relatively new concept for us humans. Roundup has only been around for the past 50 years or so. So, perhaps another way to think about organic vs conventional foods is instead regular produce vs produced sprayed with chemicals or apples vs apples sprayed with chemicals. Perhaps if food were labeled this way the choice to buy organic would be easier!
Regardless of the evidence, the argument remains that one can simply not afford to buy 100% organic. Yes, buying organic will likely increase your grocery bill. There are ways to reduce the financial burden of buying organic, such as a food sharing club, buying in bulk, or shopping at stores with lower priced organic foods (think Aldi vs Whole Foods.) Also, keep in mind that the cost of buying organic often outweighs the cost of added medical bills due to the harmful effects of relying only on conventionally grown produce. It may be helpful, too, to look at your grocery list and find ways to eliminate other items to make room for more organic foods (i.e. less pop and chips and more apples and kale!)
If you simply cannot afford to buy 100% organic then all is not lost! Another option to reduce the cost of going organic is picking and choosing which foods to buy organic. The best way to do this is by using the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. The Dirty Dozen lists the 12 most chemically laden conventionally grown foods – the foods you should ALWAYS buy organic due to the insane chemical load. The Clean Fifteen identifies foods that have the lowest toxic burden and can thus be purchased conventionally if need be.
The Dirty Dozen
Note that this year strawberries are #1 on the list. This is because the EWG found that in just one sample of strawberries 20 different pesticides were detected! Equally disturbing, the spinach samples had about twice as much pesticide residue by weight compared to any other crop!
The Clean Fifteen
When you look at the Clean Fifteen you’ll notice that most of these foods have a hard outer layer that is not often consumed (think corn husks and avocado skin.) This thick outer layer helps protect the produce from the chemicals sprayed during its growing period.
What about GMOs?
GMO stands for genetically modified organism. The best way to describe this is to think of Roundup ready sweet corn. The seeds of this type of sweet corn are genetically altered so they can withstand more pesticides or herbicides. We still don’t know how our bodies react to genetically modified foods, but knowing that they are sprayed with more chemicals is argument enough for avoiding these foods. Note, too, that GMO foods are often a component of processed foods like chips, crackers, cookies etc. If you want to avoid GMO foods then it is best to steer clear of conventionally grown sweet corn, papaya, zucchini, and yellow squash as well as corn syrup, corn oil, and soy found in many processed foods. Unfortunately, at this time federal law does not require labeling of genetically engineered products. If you would like extra help in identifying genetically engineered ingredients, though you can look for the Non-GMO project label or consult the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Avoiding GMO Food, Food Scores Database, and EWG’s Healthy Living app, as well as Food Matters’ 10 Most Common GMO Foods.
If you’d like to learn more, here are some additional resources:
As always, eat real food, be kind to others, and laugh often!
Sally Sparby, MA, LPCC, LADC, FMCHC