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10 Foods You Should Buy Organic

By Martha Barksdale
HowStuffWorks.com.
March 19, 2009


If you can't afford to go all organic, should you put your money where your
kumquats are?­Once solely the domain of the granola crowd, organic foods have
become big business. Spending on organic products has grown by nearly 20 percent
over the past decade. Nearly two-thirds of American consumers purchase at least
some organic foodstuffs [source: Consumer Reports]. By organic we mean foods
that meet the standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Animals can't
be given antibiotics or growth hormone. Farmers can't use ­ chemical fertilizers
or pesticides on their fruits and vegetables. These toxins can get into the food
and be passed along to people. While the jury is out on just how harmful this
can be, many people would rather not take a chance. Others prefer organic
farming because its methods result in less pollution.

But other than the self-congratulatory thrill you feel after you've chosen an
organic kumquat over its chemical-laden brethren in the grocery store, are there
any real benefits in buying organic? While choosing foods produced without
che­mical pesticides and fertilizers is a "green" choice for our planet, it can
also mean there's less "green" in your wallet. Organic farming is more labor
intensive, and that can translate into the food being more expensive at the
store. Since only the wealthiest among us can choose a diet composed totally of
foods that bear the organic label, it's reassuring to know that there are only a
few foods experts say should be purchased organic or not at all. Grab a
pesticide-free Golden Delicious out of the fruit bowl, sit back and keep reading
to find out what they are.

10: Meat

The outbreak of mad cow disease in the 1990s gave organic beef a big boost, but
standards are the same for all animals raised to be sold as organic. Ranchers
and farm owners cannot give their animals antibiotics to make them resistant to
disease, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations. Some people
feel overuse of ­antibiotics can lead to the development of drug-resistant
strains of bacteria in animals and people. Growth hormone to speed the
development of the animals is also banned in livestock raised for certified
organic meat.

Organic meat and poultry must be fed grain that was grown without chemical
fertilizers or pesticides. No feed that includes meat by-products -- the means
of spreading mad cow disease -- is allowed. Organic beef must come from a mother
that was given organic feed during the last third of her gestation.
The organic label also means the animal had access to the outdoors for some
period each day. However, these requirements are not clearly defined. You
shouldn't imagine a barnyard full of frolicking animals, critics warn. Outdoors
may mean that a chicken was kept in a cage with a screened wall open to the
outside.

9: Dairy Products

Organic milk is produced by cows that have had organic diets and are not
injected with antibiotics.­Nonorganic milk can contain small traces of
pesticides. Since milk is a staple food for children, this is cause for concern.
Organic milk is more pure. Organic dairies give their cows feed made from grain
grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Growth hormone isn't allowed.
Dairy animals are not given antibiotics, which could get into the milk.
Widespread use of antibiotics also increases the possibility of
antibiotic-resistant bacteria developing in the future. U.S. Department of
Agriculture standards say organic dairy cows must graze in a pasture for at
least 120­ days a year [source: Skrzycki]. The avoidance of pesticides and
fertilizers in the feed and in the pasture lessens the impact of the herd on the
environment. Remember, too, to look for organics in products made from milk such
as yogurt, ice cream, butter and cheese

8: Eggs

Some stores now sell exotic organic eggs.­Small amounts of pesticides may pass
from chickens to eggs, and from there, on to the many foods prepared with them.
Organic eggs com­e from birds that eat organic feed and are not pumped up with
growth hormone or dosed with an­tibiotics.

But it's not the lack of contaminants that make organic eggs a must; it's how
the eggs are produced. The philosophy here is that happy chickens lay better
eggs. Proponents of organic eggs say the source makes all the difference.
Top-of-the-line organic eggs come from free-range chickens that have access to a
yard not treated with chemicals. As stated earlier, the definition of free-range
in the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations is open to broad
interpretation, so investigate the source of your eggs if humane treatment is a
factor in your purchasing.

White eggs or brown? While many people think brown eggs are more nutritious,
there's no difference. The color of egg depends on the breed of chicken. White
chickens lay white eggs; brown chickens lay brown. It's that simple. You don't
have to limit your organic egg purchases to chicken eggs. Some organic farmers
now offer a variety of exotic choices -- goose, quail, even ostrich eggs.

7: Coffee

Most organic coffee also carries the Fair Trade Practices label.­The morning joe
made quite a journey to get to your mug. The coffee beans that produced it were
probably grown in a country that doesn't regulate the use of pesticides and
fertilizers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture organic label means harmful
chemicals weren't used in growing or processing the beans.

But there's more to consider than just the organic label here. Look for the Fair
Trade Practices label that most organic coffee carries. That designation means
the people who produced the coffee beans were paid fairly and treated well.
One more item to consider before you take another sip -- is the coffee package
shade-grown? Shade-grown coffee is just what it claims to be -- grown underneath
the canopy of forest trees. In addition to preserving the majestic trees of the
rainforest, this practice gives birds, bats and other animals a home.

6: Peaches (and Some Other Fruits, Too)

Peaches and other fruits with thin skins absorb high levels of pesticides.­Ah, a
peach -- the very word is synonymous with perfection. It's also No. 1 on the
Environmental Working Group's list of foods with the most and the highest
concentration of pesticides [source: EWG]. The Environmental Working Group (EWG)
is a nonprofit concerned with public health and the environment. Even washing
and peelin­g couldn't remove all the pesticides from a nonorganic peach. Peeling
also takes away a lot of the fruit's nutritional benefit. Peaches aren't the
only culprit for pesticide contamination, though. Many fruits have high levels
of pesticides. Apples and nectarines rank high on the scale of pesticide-laden
foods. Strawberries absorb a lot of poison through their thin skins. You can't
peel a strawberry, either. The same goes for cherries. Grapes -- and raisins --
fall under this category, as well. Many fruit juices contain grape juice, so
look for the organic label there, too, especially if the juice is for kids.
Buying fruit out of season is risky since standards are lax in many of the
countries where it's grown.

5: Potatoes

Prince Charles examines organic potatoes in California.­Our friend the spud gets
a double dose of poison when grown under nonorganic conditions. Growers spray
pesticides on the vines above ground, while the soil gets a dose of fungicide to
prevent disease where the tubers are growing. The fungicides prevent potato
blight, which was the villain in the potato famine of the mid-1800s in Ireland,
resulting in the deaths of about one million people. There's no good organic
means to combat it, and that keeps the price of organic potatoes to more than
twice that of their nonorganic fellows.

The pesticide level for sweet potatoes is a bit lower than for the Irish
variety, according to the Environmental Working Group, but it, too, is still
high enough to warrant springing for the organically grown ones.

4: Peppers (and a Few Other Veggies)

Organically grown heirloom peppers avoid the problem of pesticide
absorption.­Peppers -- be they big, sweet bells or tiny, fiery scotch bonnets --
absorb pesticides like a sponge through their thin skins. They are prone in
insect infestation, too, so they're subject to heavy sprayings of insecticides
on the big commercial farms. Many peppers are imports from other countries where
standards are not as restrictive as those in the United States. Even washing and
peeling the colorful beauties can't eliminate the contamination.

Other veggies that show a high level of pesticide residue are celery, green
beans and tomatoes. Cherry and grape tomatoes are small and difficult to wash.
Celery has no protective skin so it's another candidate for organic purchase.
The Environmental Working Group also rates carrots and cauliflower as
questionable in term of pesticide load; so if you're skittish, you might want to
look for their organic versions [source: EWG].

3: Leafy Greens

An organic garden at San Francisco's City Hall features leafy greens.­The salad
bowl sounds healthy enough, but fill it with chemical-laden greens, and some
people would call it a poisoning waiting to happen. Insects, worms and slugs
love the tender leaves of spinach and lettuce just as much as we do. Some of the
most potent pesticides in use are sprayed right on the le­aves we crunch on in
our chef's salad. Spinach had the highest number of pesticides of any vegetable
tested in the Environmental Working Group's study [source: EWG]. Organic growers
use traps, nontoxic repellents and mesh nets to keep the insects at bay.
Greens such as kale, mustard greens, turnip greens and collards are also at high
risk of pesticide contamination. Purchase organic versions of these hearty
greens if they're available.

2. Baby Food

Since babies are susceptible to pesticides, it's wise to invest in organic baby
food for your child.­Babies and small children are especially susceptible to the
harmful effects of pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and chemicals. Because baby
food is often made of condensed vegetables and fruit, the level of any chemicals
found on the food is intensified.

Many pesticides used on fruits and vegetables are toxic to the brain and can
interfere with development. The synthetic growth hormone used in meat can
potentially cause early puberty in girls [source: Cornell]. Exposure to toxins
at certain phases of development can be critical. Toxins that would have no
effect on an adult can harm the ner­vous system and brain of a child. Factor in
the baby's small body size, and you could have a dangerous combination.
Even if a child has been eating nonorganic food, making the switch can influence
the level of pesticides in the blood [source: Curl]. Eating organic can benefit
a child even before he or she is born. Toxic chemicals in a mother's bloodstream
can pass through to her fetus [source: Consumer Reports].

1. Your Own Personal Faves

If you eat a lot of one particular food, it's worth it to buy the organic
version.­Harmful chemicals are all around us -- in our bodies, in our
environment and in our food. Maybe you can tolerate a little bit of pesticide,
but, like anything else, you can overdo it. Experts say anything you eat in
abundance should be organic in order to avoid overexposure to certain chemicals.
While a little bit of pesticide residue in your favorite tortilla chips may be
OK, if you eat a bag of them a day, you may be flirting with toxic buildup (not
to mention obesity). Same with peanut butter, rib eye steaks, corn and so on.
It's especially important to remember this rule for babies and children because
their small body size means toxins can accumulate quickly.

 

 

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