Are Organic Foods Really Worth the Money?

Sort past the hype to uncover the foods worth eating

Carlos Zapata

Most of us are familiar with organic foods.  We hear they’re not sprayed with chemicals, which reduces the levels of ingested toxins.  We also hear that we should eat organic because doing so can decrease the risk of diseases like cancer. 

But perhaps eating organic is just on the list of what we know we should do, like tossing that last pack of cigarettes.  So where do we start?  We’re so barraged with information telling us to do this and that, but if we try to find information on the how, then suddenly, we’re grasping for straws.

Jonathan Cheney is aware of the fact that purchasing organic foods is healthier for one’s diet, but he admits that he’s not as knowledgeable about the subject as he could be. 

“I have to believe organic has to be much better for you, because it does not contain all the hormones and added chemicals,” he said.  “But I’m definitely not an expert on organic food.”

Best-selling author and public health expert Tracye McQuirter offers advice to those who, like Cheney, aren’t really sure what types of organic foods to purchase.  “Start with the fresh fruits and vegetables that are the most heavily sprayed,” she said.  “Start with organic greens.”

The Environmental Working Group, or EWG, offers lists like the "Dirty Dozen" to consumers, who are looking to eat healthier.  The EWG poured over 89,000 tests, collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to review and analyze the results of pesticides in produce. 

The "Dirty Dozen" details the worst nonorganic produce to purchase, because they’re loaded with chemicals:  celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, kale and collard greens, as well as potatoes and imported grapes. 

In other words, don’t consume these items from the list unless you’ve bought them as organic.

Why should people care?  Well, as the EWG puts it, people who eat at least five veggies or fruits from the "Dirty Dozen" list consume approximately 10 pesticides -- daily. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the EWG also promotes the "Clean 15," or a list of those foods lowest in pesticides.  Such items include:  onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mangos, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwis, cabbages, eggplants, cantaloupes, watermelons, grapefruits, sweet potatoes and honey dew melons.

Lists like these are helpful for people who aren’t willing to pay double for their grocery bill at checkout, like Cheney.  Foods like the ones on the "Clean 15" (think avocados) don’t always have to be purchased as organic.  “Avocados are hardly ever sprayed,” McQuirter said.  “You don’t have to spend $2 to $3 on an [organic] avocado.  Go to any local corner store and get one for 99 cents.”

In reference to the price tags on foods, McQuirter added: “Folks can balk at organic prices.  But in the scheme of things, it can be relative.  Folks spend whatever amount of money on a fast food meal for their family.”

While it’s ideal to eat an entirely organic diet, it may not always be likely.  We all aspire to be the picture-perfect image of health.

“I am going to try to start eating some organic foods," Cheney said. "I want to get into better shape, and I want to become healthier.” 

So, you don’t have to turn your head toward the organic trend, entirely.  Instead, try taking baby steps, working toward a healthier diet in general.  Who knows -- two years from now, you might even land yourself on the cover of Men’s Health.

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