Thrifty Guide to Buying Organic

Thrifty Consumer’s Guide to Buying Organic Foods
Advocates of organic foods contend that the pesticide residue on produce and the hormones given to animals destined for the butcher’s shop render non­organic foods very dangerous to eat. Skeptics say there’s no proof linking conventionally farmed foods to the many diseases they are blamed for.

If your convictions lie somewhere in the middle, you may be struggling with another aspect of this controversy — the cost. Do the health benefits of organic foods really justify paying significantly more for them than for nonorganic foods? There is no easy answer, because there is no hard-and-fast evidence.

For instance…

 In lab studies, pesticides have been linked to cancer and reproductive and neurological problems. And it does appear that farmers who work directly with pesticides have elevated rates of these medical problems.

But: There is little clinical data showing how humans are affected by eating crops grown with pesticides.

 Theoretically, if organic foods are grown in soil that is richer in nutrients, the crops should be more nutritious. Some studies do suggest that organic foods have a higher nutrient content than nonorganic — but others find no difference.

 You may have heard claims that organic foods aid weight loss. This is true only to the extent that people who eat organic generally are health-conscious, so they maintain a diet naturally low in calories and high in nutrition. However, organic foods themselves do not automatically keep you slim.

A reasonable approach…


Plant crops are considered organic when they are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers or sewage sludge… and are not genetically engineered or irradiated to combat bacteria and insects. They cost from 10% to 40% more than their nonorganic counterparts.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit research organization, has developed a list of the 12 conventionally farmed fruits and vegetables most laden with pesticides. Organic is well worth the higher price for these — apples, bell peppers, carrots, celery, cherries, grapes (imported), kale, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, pears and strawberries.

If you do buy a nonorganic food from this “dirty dozen,” wash it thoroughly before eating. Also, discard the outermost leaves of leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, especially with nonorganic produce. EWG also has determined which conventionally farmed foods usually are low in pesticide residue. To save money, you can skip organic versions of these — asparagus, avocado, broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, kiwifruit, mango, onion, papaya, pineapple, sweet corn, sweet peas, sweet potato, tomato and watermelon.

Helpful: To print a wallet card of these lists, go to Or just remember this rule of thumb — if you eat the skin (like an apple), buy organic… if you peel the skin (like an onion), conventional is okay. Not all of EWG’s recommendations fit this guideline, but most do.


For any animal product to be considered organic, it must come from animals given a diet of organic feed. This means that the feed was grown without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, preservatives or sewage sludge… was not genetically modified or irradiated… and contained no animal byproducts. Organic feed is expensive, so organic animal products often cost more than twice as much as nonorganic.

Organic eggs come from hens that have some outdoor access instead of being constantly confined to cages… and have not been treated with antibiotics or hormones. Organic eggs are readily available in supermarkets. Are they worth paying double? It’s a personal decision.

Milk labeled organic is free of genetically modified recombinant bovine growth hormone(rBGH). Though the FDA says there is no difference between organic and nonorganic milk in terms of effects on health, some research suggests a link between rBGH and hormone-related cancers, such as breast, ovarian and uterine cancer. For that reason, organic milk is a safer choice for young children, whose growing bodies are more susceptible to hormonal effects… people with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly… and those with a chronic illness.

With meat, poultry and fish, organic means that the animals received no antibiotics or growth hormones in the last 12 months. These items often are difficult to find and are the most expensive of the organic products. Many consumers are reassured to know that organic beef comes from cows that were not fed ground-up animal parts, as nonorganic cows sometimes are — because some research links this practice to the human form of “mad cow” disease. However, there has been only one known case of the disease in the US, and that occurred in a person who had eaten beef overseas.

Are organic meat, poultry and fish worth the inconvenience and expense? If you feel strongly about supporting more humane treatment of animals and protecting the environment from pesticides, your answer may be yes. for a list of sellers in your area who carry organic meat, poultry and fish.


Food labels can be confusing. As you shop, keep these terms in mind…

 100% organic means just what it says.

 Organic means that at least 95% or more of the ingredients must be organic.

 Made with organic ingredients signifies that at least 70% of the ingredients are organic.

 Natural does not mean organic. In fact, it has no standard definition so there’s no point in paying more for a food just because it claims to be natural.

Source:  Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, Paulette Goddard Professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University in New York City, and author or coauthor of numerous books, including What to Eat .

One response to this post.

  1. […] May Not Be Buying Organic ( Buying Organic (or not) ( Thrifty Guide to Buying Organic ( Buying organic affordably ( […]


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