Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Dirty Dozen": Which Produce You Should Really Consider Eating Organic

Interested in cutting your exposure to pesticides found on produce by almost 90%? Who isn't? According to the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit research organization, there are twelve fruits and vegetables that everyone should really consider eating organic. These twelve have been labeled the "Dirty Dozen", and are consistently found to have the highest amounts of traceable pesticide residues, significantly increasing your toxic exposure. These twelve are:
  1. Peaches
  2. Apples
  3. Strawberries
  4. Nectarines
  5. Cherries
  6. Pears
  7. Imported Grapes
  8. Sweet Bell Peppers
  9. Celery
  10. Spinach
  11. Lettuce
  12. Potatoes

By eating these twelve fruits and vegetables organic, the Environmental Working Group found that a person could cut their exposure to pesticides on produce by 90%. That is quite significant! They also came up with a list of the twelve fruits and vegetables with the least amount of traceable pesticides. They are:

  1. Onions
  2. Avocados (my favorite!!)
  3. Frozen Sweet Corn
  4. Cabbage
  5. Broccoli
  6. Asparagus
  7. Frozen Peas
  8. Pineapples
  9. Mangoes
  10. Kiwi
  11. Banana
  12. Papaya

If you are only willing to buy some food organically, then consider these two lists when shopping.

Remember that these lists only consider produce. Your pesticide exposure from produce is minimal compared to foods such as meats and dairy, which, according to the EPA, are significantly higher in pesticide residues. Coffee is another culprit. Another point to consider is that imported fruits and vegetables most likely contain higher amounts of pesticides that are now illegal in the U.S. This is one of those ironic (or is it idiotic) situations where we manufacture tons (literally) of toxic pesticides that we as a nation have deemed illegal to use, yet sell to other countries, and then import the foods sprayed with these illegal pesticides. Hmmmm? Real effective! When buying your produce from conventional farmers, pay attention to where it was grown and opt for grown in USA. Most fruits and vegetables have a sticker that will say where it was grown. Another quick fact about those elusive stickers on produce; a sticker that starts with a number 4 is conventionally grown, while starting with a 9 is organic. All of this information is definitely food for thought!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why Go Organic

There have been a few hot words in the past couple of years, one of them being the word organic. All of us have been hearing that organic foods are a better choice than conventional foods, but many ask, "Is it worth the price?" In my opinion, definitely. For some, not so much, especially with this down economy. My husband and I have been eating almost 100% organic, and about 75% local), for about 5 years now, and we do not spend that much more on groceries than anyone else. Since I seem to be having a hard time writing recipes due to my new hobby of drooling over and cuddling with my new daughter, I thought I would write a series of 3 posts about eating organically. I think that deep down in most of our hearts we know it is the right thing to do, for both body and planet. I'll start my series with what organic actually means when it comes to food, and then my top 8 reasons for going organic. The next two posts will be regarding the dirty dozen (the top 12 foods you should really consider eating organic), followed by how to go organic without breaking the bank.

Why Go Organic

Organic foods are required by law to be produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering, and other practices such as irradiation and the use of sewer sludge (Organic Agriculture and Production. Organic Trade Association’s Manufacturer Survey (2006), Retrieved from There are governmental standards for organic farming. According to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), in 1990, U.S. Congress adopted the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) as part of the 1990 farm bill. Over a decade of public input and discussion finally resulted in a National Organic Program, which was published by the USDA in December of 2000, and implemented in October of 2002. Through a complex process, quite a few dollars, and a lot of inspections, farms can become certified organic. Farms can carry this “certified organic” label, and consumers can be assured that the food they are buying meets governmental regulations for organic farming. Here are my top 8 reasons for buying and supporting organic foods:

1. Avoiding Chemicals: 90% of the chemicals approved by the FDA for food production have not been tested for long term effects before being deemed safe (Environmental Working Group (2006). FDA Monitoring & Enforcing. Retrieved from 46 of our most popular fruits and vegetables can have up to 192 different pesticides between them (Environmental Working Group and Stonyfield Farm (2006). Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Retrieved from These pesticides are absorbed into the human body and stored in fat tissues. They can be found in mother’s breast milk, and the urine of our children. Very scary!

2. Organic Foods are More Nutritious: According to certified nutrition specialist Virginia Worthington, after examining 41 published studies comparing the nutritional value of conventional produce to organic, she concluded that organic foods contain 27% more vitamin C, 21.1% more iron, 29.3% more magnesium, 13.6% more phosphorus, and 15.1% less nitrates(Worthington, V. (2001). Nutritional Quality of Organic Versus Conventional Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains [electronic version]. Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, 7(2). Retrieved from The increase in nutritional value of organic foods is in large amount due to healthier soil. Pesticide free soil is full of life, nourishing the plants that in turn nourish us.

3. Better Flavor and Taste: Organic farming works with the rhythm of the seasons, resulting in foods being grown during their natural cycles which creates the best products possible. The plants are also forced to, in essence, fend for themselves to fight off pests, disease, and the stress of their surrounding elements. One way they may fend for themselves is through the production and use of phytochemicals, which also give very distinctive tastes to certain foods (Beling, S. (1997). Power Foods. New York, Harper Collins). Garlic, onions, and cruciferous vegetables are all examples.

4. Avoiding GMOs: Our local farms are being threatened by loss of diversity due to GE foods. Genetic drift is a serious problem and could wipe out our regional foods, leaving the fate of our farmers in the hands of large biotech corporations. It is estimated that 75% of the food in grocery stores contain GE ingredients. The FDA does not require safety testing, labeling, or even notification of new GE products that go to market. The citizens of the U.S. are guinea pigs to an enormous biotech corporation experiment, and they are not even aware of it. More long term studies need to be done to assure the safety of these crops, and we should be allowed to know exactly what these crops are being genetically altered with (many crops are altered to produce pesticides while growing. These “foods” are actually considered a chemical and not a food). (Genetically Engineered Foods/Crops (2002). Creative Health News. Retrieved from ).

5. Avoiding Hormones and Antibiotics: According to a Union of Concerned Scientists report (Union of Concerned Scientists (2002). Hogging It: Estimates of Antimicrobial Abuse in Livestock. Retrieved from, 70% of all antibiotics produced in the United States are fed to chickens, pigs, and cows, strictly for growth promotion. When humans consume these meat products, they directly ingest these drugs. Fish are farmed with the same degrading practices, as well as dairy cows and egg laying hens. The only safe way to avoid this is to go organic, hormone, and antibiotic free. Even better, go organic, grass fed meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs. Support animals being able to live like animals, in pastures eating nourishing green grass, instead of being confined to fight their natural instincts. If you are a meat eater, I highly suggest you read Michael Pollan’s (2006), The Omnivore’s Dilemma, part 2, regarding grass fed livestock.

6. Preserving Ecosystems: Organic farming promotes harmony with nature. It nurtures the land and works in a symbiotic relationship with the seasons, not against them. Organic farming takes work, and thought, by using crop rotation, natural methods of pest control, water management, and companion planting, which creates natural, mini-ecosystems that function as nature intended. Preserving and protecting ecosystems is the key to success.

7. Reduces Pollution and Protects Water Sources: No pesticide use means no run off into local water supplies, creeks, streams, and oceans (where everything eventually ends up). Obvious and enough said!

8. Preserves Diversity: This is extremely important. Organic farms have to be diverse to survive, especially in a local market. Diversity means the farmer is not putting all of his or her eggs into one basket, like monoculture does, and can ultimately survive if a crop fails. Diversity also creates natural ecosystems with their own forms of pest control, resulting in no real need for pesticides, and gives the consumer many honest, clean food choices. Diversity also gives us the chance to preserve heirloom type vegetables, and allows us to continue the tradition of passing seeds down through generations.