The most recent federal testing found 98% of apples have at least one pesticide contaminant, and 97% of bell peppers are contaminated. Nine pesticides were found on a single apple, and eight in a single grape sample. source
After reading such statistics, it is easy to see why more and more people are choosing to go “organic.” My family began the journey of going organic earlier this year; but, all of the labels on products in the grocery store, like “natural” and “organic,” confused us. After some reasearch, we found out that the word “natural,” means completely nothing! Any product can use it! So then, what does “organic” mean? The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) depicts “organic” as follows: “
Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.” So at least we knew that when an item said “organic” we were more likely to find a healthy alternative.
Since organic food can be pricey, my family’s relationship with it has had its ups and its downs, but we now have a truce. We strive to buy as much organic as we can with-in our means.
Organic.org unraveled some of the reasons that organic food is more expensive than conventional. “In general, organic food costs more than conventional food because of the laborious and time-intensive systems used by the typically smaller organic farms. You may find that the benefits of organic agriculture off-set this additional cost…Consider the following when questioning the price of organic:
–> “Organic farmers don’t receive federal subsidies like conventional farmers do. Therefore, the price of organic food reflects the true cost of growing.
–> “The price of conventional food does not reflect the cost of environmental cleanups that we pay for through our tax dollars.
–> “Organic farming is more labor and management intensive.”
My family became interested in organic foods when we heard about all of the benefits to our health it can provide. Cynthia Sass, MPH and RD for Prevention.com, declared just three of those ways organic foods can benefit our bodies:
“They have more nutrients: Reports of organic food not being better for you are outdated. A brand new analysis of about 100 studies, including more than 40 published in the past 7 years, found that the average levels of nearly a dozen nutrients are 25% higher in the organic produce.
“There may be weight benefits: Research in rats found that those fed an all-organic diet (versus conventional food) had lower weights, less body fat and stronger immune systems. Plus, the “clean diet” animals were calmer and slept better.
“You consume fewer toxins: Eating the twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables, [the Dirty Dozen], exposes you to about fourteen pesticides a day. A study supported by the EPA measured pesticide levels in children’s urine before and after a switch to an organic diet. After just five days, the chemicals decreased to undetectable levels.”
With all of the potential benefits of organic foods on people’s health, it is no surprise why it has become increasingly popular; but sometimes, beginning the transition to more organically grown/manufactured products can be a struggle for some. Sass offers seven tips to aid individuals who desire to begin that transition:
- “The most important fruits and vegetables you should buy organic (are) those with the greatest pesticide residues and the ones you eat most often… Always buying [the ‘dirty dozen’] organic is ideal, but if you can’t, focus on those you eat all the time.
- “Buy organic produce in season (preferably local) when it’s most affordable–usually at half the cost. Not only does your wallet benefit, but so do the local farmers supplying the grub. You’re guaranteed that the produce is fresh and little energy was wasted in its journey from the farm to your kitchen.
- “Don’t be fooled by fancy packaging. Choose organic foods without fancy packaging…”
- “When it comes to meat and poultry, it’s better to choose organic. A study in the journal Meat Science compared the nutritional content of organic and non-organic chicken meat. The researchers found that the organic samples contained 28% more omega-3s, essential fatty acids that are linked to reduced rates of heart disease, depression, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation, and Alzheimer’s disease. Animals raised organically can’t be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or feed made from animal by-products (which can transmit mad cow disease).
- “Clipping Sunday coupons isn’t just for grandma. Many organic dairy companies such as Stonyfield Farm (stonyfield.com) and Organic Valley (organicvalley.com) offer printable coupons on their sites for as much as $1 off a half gallon of milk or 16-ounce container of yogurt.
- “Find out if your supermarket switched to greener store brands. Nearly every mainstream supermarket now carries organic store-brand options, including Safeway’s O Organics line, H-E-B’s Central Market Organic selections, Wal-Mart’s Great Value private label, Stop & Shop’s Nature’s Promise, and Supervalu’s Wild Harvest. Organics are also available within Kroger, Publix, and Wegmans store brands.
- “Organic options can be found at Costco, BJ’s, and Sam’s Club and buy in bulk. You can purchase many organic grains (including brown and wild rice and whole oats), pastas, flours, dried fruits, and nuts in the bulk sections of stores for far less. Organic brown rice in bulk is about 99 cents per pound.”
Clearly, organic foods offer a positive alternative for my family to the pesticide-covered, hormone-laced food products readily available in the local grocery store. Even though the cost may be higher, the benefits certainly outweigh the price.
Still, we can’t buy everything organic because sometimes the item is more than double the price of the regular. So we’ve learned that if we can only buy a few items organic, we go for the the Dirty Dozen (those most likely to have pesticide residues), which include peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce, and potatoes; and/or the ones we eat the most often.
There are some produce we don’t worry about if they are organic or not. Unlike the Dirty Dozen, the Clean Fifteen (the least likely to have pesticides) include onions, avocados, corn, pineapples, mangos, asparagus, peas, kiwi fruit, cabbage, eggplant, papaya, watermelon, broccoli, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.
We’ve also learned that the digit code on the food can tell us whether it is organic or conventional. Many fruits and vegetables have the food label stickers on them that have 4 or 5 digit codes. If the produce item has 4 digits, that means it is conventionally grown, but not organic. If it has 5 digits, and begins with a 9, that means that the produce item was organically grown. A 5 digit code that begins with an 8 indicates that the produce item was genetically modified. We’ve learned a lot by the numbers of the items.
So, has my family gone completely organic? No, we have not. When we started to go organic, we went entirely organic. We bought nothing but items that were organic; we were trying to do too much, and it back fired on us. We then had to look at our finances and decide what items we will only buy organic, other items when the price is reasonable, and those not necessary to buy organic. We now strive to buy what we can. So what does this mean to me as a teen? Should teens go entirely organic? I say, if your wallet can afford it, go right ahead. If not, do as much as you can.
Find a balance.