When and Why to Buy Organic Food

If you’ve been following Eating Bird Food for any amount of time you’ll know that I’m a huge proponent of clean eating, which for me means focusing on whole, real foods. It also means choosing organic options whenever possible because I know they are better for my health and the health of our environment. I often get asked about my stance on this so I want to share a little insight into what organic means along with a list called the Dirty Dozen, which can be a helpful resource for those of us who may not be able to buy 100% organic all the time. 

What does organic even mean? Simply put, organic food is farmed using a specific set of standards. The standards vary worldwide but in general organic farming strives to be sustainable and maintain ecological balance. Certain pesticides and fertilizers are restricted with organic farming.

What is so bad about pesticides? There are many reasons pesticides aren’t good for the environment, but in our bodies they’ve shown to cause cancer, as well as, liver, kidney, and blood diseases. They can also weaken our immune system by lodging and accumulating in tissues, allowing carcinogens (cancer causing substances) and pathogens (germs) to filter into the body. Not a pretty picture!

I try to buy organic items when I can, especially when I’m buying items that are known to have more pesticide exposure — for example, the Dirty Dozen. The Dirty Dozen is a list the Environmental Working Group (EWG) comes out with each year that is the most pesticide contaminated fruits and vegetables. Each time I buy organic over conventional I know I’m voting with my dollar and I know I’m supporting the organic farmers out there who are trying to make a difference. Plus, organic produce really does taste better. Bananas aren’t on the dirty dozen list but I can definitely tell the difference taste wise between organic and non-organic bananas, plus bananas are cheap so I always buy organic.

Buying organic all of the time isn’t feasible for everyone and I realize this, but this guide can help you make the best choices for you and your family – even if you can’t buy entirely organic foods. Remember that you should eat your fruits and veggies no matter what because the nutritional benefits of eating produce outweigh the risk of pesticide exposure, but it’s best to try to reduce your exposure to pesticides whenever possible.

Use these lists as a guide. When your budget and grocery store allows, try to buy organic produce for those listed on the Dirty Dozen list. The Clean 15 list are items you can buy conventional with peace of mind that they are the least pesticide contaminated.

Dirty Dozen +:

  1. strawberries
  2. spinach
  3. nectarines
  4. apples
  5. peaches
  6. pears
  7. cherries
  8. grapes
  9. celery
  10. tomatoes
  11. sweet bell peppers
  12. potatoes
  13. hot peppers

Clean 15:

  1. sweet corn (although could be GMO)
  2. avocadoes
  3. pineapples
  4. cabbage
  5. onion
  6. frozen sweet peas
  7. papayas
  8. asparagus
  9. mangos
  10. eggplant
  11. honeydew melon
  12. kiwi
  13. cantelope
  14. cauliflower
  15. grapefruit

Check out my Top 5 Tips for Buying Organic on a Budget for more information to support your grocery shopping!

Additional links of interest:

10 Tips for Farmers Market Newbies

Eco-Friendly Eating: Why Organic Local Food is Healthier for You – Shape

Local vs. Organic Produce: Which is Better? – Simple Organic

5 Reasons to Eat Organic Organic Valley

Are there any items that you always buy organic? Do you notice a taste difference?

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    1. Liv
      June 19, 2011 AT 1:07 am

      I love this post…organic is important to overall health! Of course eating veggies is most important, but I think if I’m buying organic and thinking about that, I’m focused on my overall health in general, right? The Rachel episode of Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition (Monday nights on ABC at 10pm/9c) talked about health and organics…pretty awesome…I love the inspiration! http://tinyurl.com/64qvquj

    2. dana @ my little celebration
      June 17, 2011 AT 11:16 pm

      Great post. I don’t buy a whole lot of organic unless it’s on sale. I can just be so pricey.. But after seeing your recommendations list, I’ll better know what to look for in the organic section next time. Thanks!

    3. Leanne @ Healthful Pursuit
      June 17, 2011 AT 6:59 pm

      The list has really changed, eh? I LOVE that they make this though, it really helps when you’re out and about shopping! You can download the app onto any smart phone, so awesome!

    4. Tichina
      June 17, 2011 AT 6:03 pm

      Great info! Since I’ve started my degree I’ve learnt so much about the benefits of buying organic. Although I don’t get the oppourtunity to go to many farmers markets I make it my mission to hunt down what I can from my grocery store! 🙂

    5. LauraJayne
      June 17, 2011 AT 1:59 pm

      I try to always eat organic from the “list” – and I really do notice a taste difference. Part of that, I think, is because I normally chose produce seasonally too. I’m lucky though, during the summer, I don’t have to go further than my mom’s garden for produce – and she is very careful to make sure everything is organic (and also free)!

    6. Kelly Marie
      June 17, 2011 AT 1:52 pm

      I live by this list! great post!

    7. Lauren @ What Lauren Likes
      June 17, 2011 AT 9:55 am

      I have heard about these “dirty dozens” ewww it really creeps you out when you find out whats really on your food eh? I always try to buy organic ( ALWAYS dairy fo’ sure), sometimes it can get pricey though! But its usually worth it 🙂 I

    8. char @ char on a mission
      June 16, 2011 AT 10:15 pm

      I had organic strawberries yesterday then regular strawberries today and I noticed a huge difference. The flavour was just SO much better in the organic ones – when it taste that much better and you know you’re more likely to eat the better tasting item, then buying organic makes its worth the extra cost (in my eyes).

    9. BroccoliHut
      June 16, 2011 AT 10:03 pm

      I always buy organic apples, celery, and carrots. With carrots, I can totally taste the difference–they taste sweeter to me!

      1. Eating Bird Food
        June 16, 2011 AT 11:47 pm

        I agree, carrots are the same as bananas for me. Organic tastes much sweeter!

    10. Jessica @ Sushi and Sit-Ups
      June 16, 2011 AT 9:22 pm

      I don’t know if I could tell the difference in a blind taste test, but I do feel like organic fruits and veggies taste crisper, fresher and sweeter. I feel like they also carry a more vibrant color.

    11. Tiff @ Love Sweat and Beers
      June 16, 2011 AT 7:23 pm

      I try to buy organic animal products, mainly due to animal treatment issues, but I also buy organic tomatoes. I thought it was on the dirty dozen list, but I guess I was wrong. Ooops! Thanks for the info, especially because that’s the only organic produce I actually purchase.

    12. Sylvia Black
      June 16, 2011 AT 7:16 pm

      I used to be fairly oblivious to the whole organic issue, but lately I’ve been more interested since I began reading about the dangers of pesticides, as you say. My question is this: supposing you do buy produce with pesticide contamination, how much good does it do to wash it thoroughly before you eat it? Does it help at all, or make not much difference?

    13. Heather @ Get Healthy with Heather
      June 16, 2011 AT 7:12 pm

      Sometimes it can be a huge challenge buying organic on a budget, but my preference would definitely be to buy more organic. I do when I can and can definitely taste a difference.

      I also notice a difference with locally grown non organic fruits compared to those brought in from a far. We vote for local!

    14. Melissa @ TryingToHeal
      June 16, 2011 AT 6:27 pm

      i just read an article how they moved apples up to the top of the list of the dirty dozen…it’s makes me sad that nothing can just be grown naturally these days because we’ve messed with the environment so much…ya know?

    15. Abby
      June 16, 2011 AT 1:13 pm

      I always buy organic apples and baby spinach! Regular apples have that nasty wax and pesticide. I can’t even go near them! Lol.

    16. Brittany @ B Out There
      June 16, 2011 AT 12:47 pm

      My family puts in serious effort to follow the “dirty dozen list” to a T. It’s insanely difficult to find local produce throughout the year in the Yukon, so we rely on our organic imports! With climate change, however, our growing season is slowwwly increasing. bittersweet.
      Super post btw :).

    17. Lauren
      June 16, 2011 AT 12:36 pm

      PS- I have absolutely no real clue if that is actually true, it’s just what I tell myself. LoL 🙂

    18. Lauren
      June 16, 2011 AT 12:36 pm

      I tend to go with the rule of if it has a peel and I eat the peel, I buy organic. Things like bananas or oranges I don’t really see the purpose because the pesticides are usually on the peel and I end up throwing it away.

    19. Keelie (SweatEqualsSuccess)
      June 16, 2011 AT 11:37 am

      Great thought-provoking post! I go back and forth on buying organic- when it’s on sale and comparable in price to conventional produce. I agree, though- eating enough fruits and veggies is more important than only eating organic- I do organic when I can and supplement with conventional!

    20. Teniesha @ Vegan on the Go-Go
      June 16, 2011 AT 11:32 am

      For me, I sort of have a rule: “If it’s not organic, don’t buy it.” However, sometimes, this gets a little complicated, especially if I’m in search of a specific ingredient, and I don’t live near a Whole Foods, unfortunately, so I rely on smaller co-op’s and even smaller organic sections at local groceries. Sometimes, for example, say I can’t find organic broccoli at the supermarket, but conventional broccoli is available–what should I do? For me, I usually forego it and get something else–it does make one more creative in the kitchen! 🙂

    21. Gina @ Running to the Kitchen
      June 16, 2011 AT 11:10 am

      I try to buy organic when possible, but at the price of organic berries I’d probably eat about 1/4 of what I normally do if I only bought organic and that’s just not a sacrifice I’m willing to make 😉
      It’s a tough balancing act.

    22. Tori (Fresh Fruition)
      June 16, 2011 AT 11:08 am

      I try to buy organic in the dirty dozen whenever possible, but the price of the berries can be a bit of a wallet shock. Good thing they have organic frozen berries for my oats 🙂

      I do notice a difference! The quality seems to be so much better.

    23. allison
      June 16, 2011 AT 10:24 am

      i read a study awhile back about how organic fruits and vegetables have more vitamins and nutrients then the same size chemical laden fruit/vegetable! The study was also saying that compared to the measurements taken in the 1950s. Fruits and veggies have decreased in nutritional value! I’ll have to look for the article cause it was super interesting!

    24. Casey (The Hippie Health Nut)
      June 16, 2011 AT 10:08 am

      I’m glad to hear someone else feels like they’re voting with their dollar. People think I’m crazy for spending what I do on groceries, but I’ve seen some results in my overall health since switching and I can definitely tell a difference in taste the majority of the time. I bought a “regular” spaghetti squash a few weeks ago and ended up throwing it away because it was so bland!

    25. Katharina
      June 16, 2011 AT 9:30 am

      I try to buy organic when possible as well. There are somethings that I don’t bother to get organic. Essentially, I choose local over organic. I like the feeling of community in that, and that they are growing great food in a natural way. There are some gripes I have with the organic industry (although I do appreciate that there is an option out there for non-GMO foods). I always buy apples, greens, carrots, bell peppers, peaches, dairy, ketchup, most berries (when I buy wild blueberries I don’t bother to get organic.. unless it’s cheaper for some reason lol) and other things organic. I also buy organic for the things that are made out of the dirty dozen like apple sauce, cream cheese, etc.

      One things that I have to say is that even if it’s not on the dirty dozen list, if there is something that anyone eats a lot of… I think it’s wise to buy organic of whatever that may be since it’s going into your body many times.

      XO, thanks for sharing!

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