How to choose organic on a budget | CraigDailyPress.com

How to choose organic on a budget

The 12 most important fruits and vegetables to buy organic

Lauren Blair

Organic red peppers gleam in the produce aisle in City Market in Craig. Sweet bell peppers are on the Dirty Dozen list of items to buy organic whenever possible.

To buy organic, or not to buy organic? That is the question. We've all heard something about the benefits of eating organic, but when you're standing in the produce section comparing prices between conventional and organic produce, the extra cost can be difficult to swallow. Of course you want to feed yourself and your family the healthiest foods possible, but without breaking the bank.

Thankfully, the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" list is here to give you some answers. It turns out that you can reduce your exposure to bad chemicals and pesticides by an estimated 80 percent just by choosing the organic version of these 12 items, according to the EWG.

What is the Dirty Dozen?

The Dirty Dozen list is updated yearly, and the 2014 list was created based on results of 32,000 samples tested by scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. The EWG analyzes the test results of 48 popular conventional produce items to create its list.

"Some 65 percent of thousands of produce samples analyzed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture test positive for pesticide residues. That’s bad news for the growing number of Americans who want to minimize their consumption of pesticides," according to the EWG.

The Dirty Dozen is composed of the produce items with the highest number of different pesticide residues, as well as the highest concentrations. For the last three years, the EWG has included a "Plus" category to draw attention to two foods — leafy greens and hot peppers — that contain trace levels of especially toxic pesticides.

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Ranking No. 1 on the Dirty Dozen list for the fourth year in a row are apples, followed by strawberries.

Other noteworthy findings were that the "average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food," and "every sample of imported nectarines and 99 percent of apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue," according to the EWG.

Why eat organic?

So there are pesticides on our food, but aren't they supposed to be safe?

"Pesticides are toxic by design," the EWG said. "They are created expressly to kill living organisms — insects, plants and fungi that are considered "pests." Many pesticides pose health dangers to people. These risks have been confirmed by independent research scientists and physicians across the world."

Pesticide exposure has been linked to health problems such as cancer, hormone disruption and toxicity in the brain and nervous system, according to the EWG. The effects can be even more detrimental to pregnant women and children.

There are other benefits to eating organic, as well, besides just avoiding pesticides.

"Keep in mind that maintaining your family’s health is not the only reason to choose organic food," Dr. Andrew Weil, a renowned leading expert in integrative medicine, said in his article about the Dirty Dozen.

"Pesticide and herbicide use contaminates groundwater, ruins soil structures and promotes erosion, and may be a contributor to 'colony collapse disorder,' the sudden and mysterious die-off of pollinating honeybees that threatens the American food supply. Buying or growing organic food is good for the health of the planet," Weil said.

Clean Fifteen

To make navigating the produce isle and your budget even easier, the EWG has also compiled a list of the 15 conventionally grown produce items that show the lowest concentration and variety of pesticides on them. The vast majority of Clean Fifteen samples did not contain more than one pesticide on them, and high percentages of many of the items had no detectable residues at all.

Now when you see those conventional avocados go on sale, you can stock up guilt-free, as less than 1 percent of avocado samples were found to have any detectable pesticides on them, according to the EWG. So when life gives you lemons, just make guacamole.

Eat your vegetables

The bottom line is that it's important to eat fresh produce, regardless of how it's grown.

"Consuming non-organic fruits and vegetables is still exponentially more healthy than eating processed foods as a replacement," said Lindsey Hester, a dietitian who works with The Memorial Hospital in Craig.

Hester said she stands by the Dirty Dozen list and suggests that "if (eating organic is) within the food budget and health priorities, then go for it," but she also suggests prioritizing cutting out packaged and processed foods before prioritizing eating organic.

When looking for ways to keep the pocketbook happy, also consider buying local, and "buy stuff that's in season; it's going to be better pricing for you," said Daniel Wright, owner of Health Works in Craig.

With 10 years of experience in the business of helping people make healthier choices, Wright has watched many people change their priorities when it comes to what they eat.

"Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food," Wright said. "Somebody 1,000 years ago said that, didn't they?"

So next time you head to the store, be a strategic shopper and know you're getting the most bang (and fewest pesticides) for your buck.

Reach Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblari@craigdailypress.com.

The Dirty Dozen

Foods that are important to buy organic:

• Apples

• Strawberries

• Grapes

• Celery

• Peaches

• Spinach

• Sweet bell peppers

• Nectarines (imported)

• Cucumbers

• Cherry tomatoes

• Snap peas (imported)

• Potatoes

The Clean Fifteen

• Avocados

• Sweet corn

• Pineapples

• Cabbage

• Sweet peas (frozen)

• Onions

• Asparagus

• Mangoes

• Papayas

• Kiwi

• Eggplant

• Grapefruit

• Cantaloupe (domestic)

• Cauliflower

• Sweet potatoes

Health Tip

Clip out these lists and put them on your fridge to reference before you head to the grocery store.