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Organic Food -- Is 'Natural' Worth the Extra Cost?

12 organic foods that are worth the expense -- and 12 that probably aren't.

Organic Food and Your Health

The USDA makes no claims that organic foods are safer, healthier, or more nutritious than conventional foods. There is also little research on the health outcomes of people who eat primarily organic diets.

Government limits do establish the safe amount of pesticides that can be used in growing and processing foods, and the amount of pesticide residue allowable on foods.

According to the EPA web site, because kids' immune systems are not fully developed, they may be at greater risk from some pesticides than adults. The web site also notes that the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act set tougher standards to protect infants and children from pesticide risks.

The Price of Buying Organic Food

Just how much more expensive is it to go organic? You can expect to pay 50%-100% more for organic foods. That's because, in general, it is more labor-intensive, and without the help of pesticides, the yield is not always as favorable.

To maximize your organic food dollar, the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., recommends going organic on the "dirty dozen" -- types of produce that are most susceptible to pesticide residue:

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Grapes (imported)
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes

And which organic produce is probably not worth the added expense? The group lists these 12 items as having the least pesticide residues:

  • Papayas
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Bananas
  • Kiwifruit
  • Sweet peas (frozen)
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Pineapple
  • Sweet corn (frozen)
  • Avocadoes
  • Onions

You can help keep costs down by shopping for sale items, comparing prices, buying locally grown products either at farmers' markets or via a co-op. The sale of organic foods in large grocery store chains is also likely to help keep prices down in the long run.

Reduce Pesticide Residues

Whether or not you buy organic, you can do your part to reduce pesticide residues on foods with the following tips:

  • Wash and scrub produce under streaming water to remove dirt, bacteria and surface pesticide residues, even produce with inedible skins such as cantaloupe. Do not use soap.
  • Remove the peel from fruits and vegetables.
  • Remove the outer leaves of leafy vegetables.
  • Trim visible fat and skin from meat and poultry because pesticide residues can collect in fat.
  • Eat a variety of foods from different sources.
  • Join a co-op farm that supports community agriculture.
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Reviewed on August 10, 2007

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