In this day and age it seems that organic foods are in every aisle at the grocery store.  Organic can be a confusing term however, and leaves most people perplexed at why it could possibly be that much more expensive or beneficial for you.  Understanding what “organic” really means can help you make more informed choices during your next trip to the grocery store.

What Is Organic

The goal of organic farming is to maintain more traditional methods of farming that our ancestors used prior to pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.  The food our grandparents used to eat were most likely farm fresh and what we now consider to be “organic”.

What Labels Mean

USDA Certified Organic Seal – foods must have at least 95% of ingredients which are certified organic

Made with Organic Materials – Food can it has less than 70% certified organic ingredients.

100% Organic – All ingredients must be organic certified

USDA Organic Standards

  • Grown in soil that had no prohibited substances (synthetic fertilizers and pesticides) applied for three years prior to harvest
  • Animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors, such as the ability to graze on pasture
  • Fed 100% organic feed and forage
  • Not administered antibiotics or hormones
  • In most countries – they are not genetically modified

Why to Choose Organic

Healthy, fortified soil means healthy, strong plants which translates to better-tasting food.  These plants are built from a solid foundation on healthy soil which is also able to provide more nutrients to these growing plants than conventional farming. Recent studies have shown an upward of 40% more antioxidants present in organic food versus conventional food.  Eating organic food will also reduce your family’s exposure to harmful pesticides – which for me is reason enough.

When to Choose Organic

Organic produce can be very costly, so if you’re looking to pick and choose which items to buy organic these are a couple easy options.  In general, the easiest way to decide is to think if the item has a skin that you eat – if so, it has likely been sprayed with pesticides and synthetic fertilizer so it is best to choose organic.  For items that have a skin you take off before eating, you can get by with choosing conventional.  That being said, I believe it is worth it to eat organic because our body is worth it.  Washing your fruits and vegetables helps to remove some of the pesticides, but will not remove it all.  Sometimes, pesticides will actually make it into the plants themselves and will be in the fruits and vegetables we eat.  Check out the lists below to figure out which produce items will be best to buy organic (Dirty Dozen) and which you can get by buy conventional (Clean Fifteen).  Meat should ALWAYS be purchased organic.

Dirty Dozen:

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Potatoes

Clean Fifteen:

  • Sweet corn
  • Avocados
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Onions
  • Sweet peas frozen
  • Papayas
  • Asparagus
  • Mangos
  • Eggplant
  • Honeydew Melon
  • Kiwi
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Grapefruit

Your best choice yet will be purchasing your produce from a local farm or farmer’s market.  You can ask you farmer about what their farming practices look like.  Sometimes they will not purchase the right to the USDA Organic label since it can be very costly for a small farm.  Look for another blog post coming soon as I explore the St. Paul Farmer’s Market for myself to see what farms sell organic quality produce.