Understanding organics

February 6, 2009 12:02:37 PM PST
With food costs on the rise, you may be rethinking what you're putting in the cart. Is that bag of apples or container of organic milk really worth it? They often cost more than their conventional counterparts. Some experts say the extra money doesn't always mean healthier benefits. So if you're pinching pennies consider selective organic shopping.

Whenever she can, Gina Ahern opts for organic. She buys a lot of her foods through a coop where produce and milk come from local farms.

What motivates Gina is worries about pesticides and the belief that foods with less chemical intervention will help keep her family healthier. But she has a budget and the knowledge not everything has to be organic.

"The conventional foods that I do buy like broccoli. Today I got broccoli for one dollar a pound and I know that broccoli is one of the crops that isn't massively sprayed with pesticides," said Ahern.

Call it selective organic shopping. But why go to the trouble at all?

The jury is still out on whether organic fruits and veggies pack a more nutritional punch. But a growing body of research suggests they could be richer in immunity boosting nutrients and there are even reports that organic milk contains more beneficial fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins.

"I don't think it has to be very expensive at all. It's all about how you pick and choose where you spend your money," said Kristina Sargent, chiropractor, ChicagoHealers.com.

Chiropractor Kristina Sargent teaches people, among other things, how to eat healthy without breaking the bank.

First, to maximize your organic food dollar focus on those foods you eat all the time such as lettuce or milk.

And then there is the dirty dozen, a list of produce most susceptible to pesticides.

"Apples, grapes, soft mushy skin berries, very soft, all that stuff, they are like little sponges. They just pull the pesticides in," said Sargent.

The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization, puts out this list. Top offenders include: peaches, apples bell peppers, celery nectarines and strawberries.

On the list of safer produce: bananas asparagus avocados kiwi, pineapple and sweet peas.

Fruits with thick peels already have fewer pesticides. And there may be no need to pay for organic onions, broccoli, cauliflower or corn. Pesticides aren't used as often on these vegetables.

And look for sales. Whole Foods Fresh Market says even in the winter you can find organics on sale.

"The easiest thing is to make sure you are shopping seasonally. Right now apples and citrus are in season," said George Economos, Whole Food Market. "You are going to find sales."

And Gina has learned the frozen food section also makes eating organic affordable.

"My daughter was craving raspberries. So I went and got frozen organic raspberries and they were a really decent price and they are picked at the peak of ripeness so she is going to get some nutritional punch for that so it's worth it," said Ahern.

Another product worth buying organic is coffee. That's because it can be treated with chemicals and pesticides that are illegal in the US.

And finally, not everything at organic markets is organic. So look carefully at how products are labeled.

Environmental Working Group

United States Dept. of Agriculture

Organic Consumers Association

Kristina Sargent, DC
Restor Healing Centre
416 E. Roosevelt Rd.
Ste 107
Wheaton, Il

Full list of fruits/veggies and rankings: http://www.foodnews.org/fulldataset.php