You are here

Ask Health Coach Maria: Should I Eat Organic Food?

January 17, 2014

Main Image

Hi, I’m Maria Marlowe, a Certified Health Coach and author of Detox without the Deprivation. I love to explain why you are what you eat and have made it my mission to help the world get healthy through better nutrition. In the “Ask Health Coach Maria” series, I answer frequently asked questions that relate to health and wellness.

My clients often ask me: are organic fruits and vegetables really worth it? In a word, yes. Here are a few benefits of eating organic:

More nutritious: Organic produce has been found to contain about 25% more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than their conventionally farmed counterparts. And since organic usually costs no more than 20% more, you’re getting more nutritional bang for your buck.

Lowers exposure to known cancer causing chemicals: The main difference between conventionally farmed and organic produce is that conventional is sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, while organic is not. These chemicals have been linked to a variety of serious health problems, including brain and nervous system toxicity, hormone disruption, and cancer.   

If you think about it, pesticides are designed to kill small creatures instantly, so it only makes sense that they would harm large creatures, like humans, too, albeit over a longer period of time. Even after washing, pesticide residue typically remains on conventional produce; they’re formulated to resist water.

Better for the environment: Organic foods support sustainable farming practices that keep these toxic chemicals out of your drinking water and air. They also are better for the soil and protect farm workers from being exposed to toxic chemicals.

Better taste: If the health and environmental reasons aren’t compelling enough for you, perhaps taste is. Organic foods tend to taste better than conventionally farmed versions. Do a taste test with conventional and organic celery. Leave a comment below if you do.

Bottom line: Organic foods are better for you, the farmers, the environment, and even your taste buds.

In an ideal world everything you eat would be organic, but unless you live on an organic farm, I know it’s not always available or economical.

Use the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists to make grocery shopping easier on you and your wallet. 

Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes the ranking of the fruits and vegetables with the most and least amount of pesticide residue. They use pesticide-testing data straight from the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. 

In 2013, they added a plus category for two items that didn’t have the highest amount of pesticides, but rather had specific types of pesticides that are known to be particularly toxic: organophosphates (known neurotoxins that can affect children’s IQ and brain development, even at low doses) and organochlorines, including DDT (which were phased out in the 1970s due to their toxicity to humans and wildlife, yet still remain in contaminated soils.)

The EWG estimates consumers can lower their pesticide exposure by 80% just by purchasing the organic versions of the foods on the Dirty Dozen list. 

Personally, I will consume the items on the Dirty Dozen only if they are organic, including when I’m out at restaurants. This is non-negotiable for me. Additionally, I always choose organic corn and soy, because the conventional versions are most likely genetically modified. For most other things, I am more lenient, although I will support organic farming whenever I can. 

The Dirty Dozen + 2 (Always buy organic) 

  1. Apples
  2. Strawberries
  3. Grapes
  4. Celery
  5. Peaches
  6. Spinach
  7. Sweet bell peppers
  8. Nectarines (imported) 
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Potatoes
  11. Cherry tomatoes
  12. Hot peppers

PLUS (Always buy organic) 

  1. Dark leafy greens (kale, collard greens)
  2. Summer squash and zucchini 

The Clean Fifteen (OK to buy conventional) 

  1. Asparagus
  2. Avocados
  3. Cabbage
  4. Cantaloupe
  5. Sweet corn 
  6. Eggplant
  7. Grapefruit
  8. Kiwi
  9. Mangoes
  10. Mushrooms
  11. Onions
  12. Papaya
  13. Pineapples
  14. Sweet peas (frozen) 
  15. Sweet Potatoes

At the grocery store, organic food will always say it’s organic. However, at farmers markets, it’s best to ask each farm how they grow their crops. Becoming a certified organic farm is expensive, so some small farmers choose to grow their crops without spraying them with pesticides, which makes them organic even if they can’t be advertised as such. Simply ask!

Any other tips for saving on your organic grocery bill? Comment below! 

Maria publishes a weekly blog and newsletter filled with healthy plant-based recipes and nutrition tips. Connect with Maria on her website, Facebook, and Instagram.