Organic Panic

Though there is a lot more organic food in the grocery store, it is still more expensive than “conventional”. If you have to make a choice, what organic food is worth spending the money on and what can you do without?

According to US based association Environmental Working Group, some fruits and vegetables are produced with a lot more pesticides than others – and while washing fruit and veg carefully will reduce pesticides, it doesn’t eliminate them. Therefore, they recommend buying organic for the “dirty dozen”, their list of the most pesticide-ridden choices based on 87,000 tests for pesticide residues conducted between 2000 and 2007 by the US department of Agriculture and the Food & Drug Administration.

Top of the dirty dozen are peaches, followed by apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots and pears.

However, there are still a few options left – the least contaminated vegetables are onions, frozen corn and peas, asparagus, avocados, pineapples and mangoes. Download the entire list of recommendations at

A study published in the September 2009 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says expensive organic food has no more nutritional benefit than the regular food, though the Canadian Organic Growers association says this is mixing apples and oranges.

“Organic isn’t a health claim, it’s a production method,” says Laura Telford, national director of the COG, a charitable education and advocacy group, pointing out that the study did not measure pesticides or antibiotics in the food, only the nutritional content.

Telford says there are health benefits in going organic when choosing fruit, with studies showing that organically raised products have more antioxidants that help prevent cardio vascular disease and cancer. But she says the biggest impact is in organic dairy products.

“We see up to a 60% difference in health benefits in organic milk taken from cows raised with organic grazing strategies,” says Telford. That means cows grazing on grass rather than being fed grains in a barn, which “is not a natural food for dairy cows.”

Recent research conducted on organic milk has shown that it has more anti-oxidants, omega 3 and vitamins than non organic milk. According to the researchers at the Danish Institute of Agricultural Research, University of Aberdeen, and the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, organic milk is healthier than non organic milk as organic cows are pasture grazed.

A massive five-year pan-European study of conventional versus organic food production also indicates that the biggest positive impacts of going organic are felt in dairy, while processed organic food can seems to show varied results that are no better than conventional. The study, funded by the European Union, concluded in April 2009 and has not yet released a final report.

So, if the budget is limited, smart money is on organic milk and meat, with a healthy selection of organic fruit. And, sign up for the newsletter to stay on top of what’s good for you at the grocery store.

–Tracy Nesdoly