Is buying organic food the best thing for your health? Use this guide for tips on organic fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, grains and more.

Pros and Cons of Eating Organic

While buying organic foods may seem like the right thing to do for your health, the environment and your family, sometimes it's difficult to justify the added expense. Plus, more food industry experts are starting to recommend choosing local foods over their organic counterparts, especially when it comes to foods where freshness really counts, like produce, dairy and meat.

So what's a responsible, price-conscious consumer to do? Nutrition experts stress that while eating organic can be a smart way to reduce your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, striving for a healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and limits processed grains, animal fats, sugar and salt is a far more effective way to boost your health.

What Does 'Organic' Really Mean?

Organic foods are produced with little or no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides and are free of added antibiotics or hormones. In order to be called organic, a product must be certified by the United States Department of Agriculture. Don't confuse "organic" with "natural" though. "There's no legal definition of a natural food," says Terrie Holewinski, RD, a cardiovascular dietitian at the University of Michigan Health System. "The food industry often uses the term 'natural' to mean minimally processed or preservative-free.

So are certified organic foods better for you than conventional foods? "At this point, there is no scientific evidence that organic foods are healthier or safer than conventionally grown foods," says Holewinski. But it's hard to identify the long-term effects of the pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals that are found in so many of our foods.

Do organic foods taste better? Some fans of organic say their food definitely tastes better. But the taste difference could be linked to other factors like the season and growing conditions.

So when should you splurge on organic, and when is it safe to save your money? This guide to the food groups can help you decide.

A GUIDE TO ORGANIC FRUITS AND VEGGIES

Fruits & Vegetables

When it comes to fresh fruit and veggies, the best thing you can do is to eat more of them -- organic or not. "If you're not eating enough fruits and vegetables overall, then buying organic is like worrying about pennies but not dollars," says Suzanne Havala Hobbs, DrPH, RD, clinical assistant professor in the department of health policy and administration at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Joel Fuhrman, MD, author of Eat to Live and Disease-Proof your Child, agrees. "Pesticides are not the main factor in determining things like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The main factor is that the American diet gets less than 10 percent of calories from fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds.

That said, "there is some justifiable concern that chemicals are potentially harmful," says Dr. Fuhrman, "but you don't have to eat completely organic. If you avoid the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables, you can eliminate more that 90 percent of your pesticide exposure.

Buy These Organic Fruits & Vegetables

  • Apples
  • Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Cherries
  • Imported grapes
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Potatoes
  • Red Raspberries
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries

It's Okay To Buy These Non-Organic Fruits & Vegetables

  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Corn (Sweet)
  • Kiwi
  • Mangos
  • Onions

(Source for lists: Environmental Working Group www.foodnews.org )

If you can't afford to purchase organic, peel apples and potatoes and consider substituting less contaminated produce like kale or Swiss chard for more contaminated items like spinach. Also, whether you buy organic or not, make sure to wash produce thoroughly and remove the outer leaf of leafy vegetables like lettuce and cabbage.

A GUIDE TO ORGANIC GRAIN, MEAT, DAIRY & FISH

Grains

"Like the other food groups, if you have access to organic grains and can afford them, I believe organic is better than conventional and always for the same reason: You're exposing yourself to fewer environmental contaminants with organic," says Dr. Hobbs. Another plus: Most organic grain products are healthy whole grains.

Meat & Dairy

When it comes to animal fats like meat and dairy products, you may want to consider going organic, but limiting your intake of animal fats overall is your healthiest move.

"The higher-fat animal products are also those that deliver the most toxicity to us. I recommend that people eat fewer animal products and opt for lower-fat versions which are less contaminated and are probably better for us anyway," says Dr. Fuhrman. "For example, instead of foods like cheese and butter, get your fat from healthier sources such as nuts, seeds and avocados." Adds Dr. Hobbs, "If you can afford it, you're better off buying organic meat but at the same time, you should reduce the frequency of meats, regardless of whether they're organic of conventional.

When eating meat, you can cut your chemical exposure by removing as much of the fat as you can since that's where chemicals are likely concentrated, says Holewinski.

Fish

Because the USDA doesn't certify fish, it's not usually identified as organic or non-organic. Some fish, like salmon, are identified as farm-raised or wild, and in this case wild is your best bet. Most food experts and nutritionists agree that wild fish are both better tasting and more nutritious because of their natural and varied diet.

Many people are concerned about harmful mercury in fish, "All fish contain mercury but some more that others," says Dr. Fuhrman. The most contaminated varieties are tilefish, white snapper, shark, mackerel, swordfish and tune. The least contaminated: flounder, tilapia, sole and trout. It's best to limit your intake of contaminated fish varieties to one servig per week, less if you're pregnant or nursing.

In the end, the decision to buy organic or not is a very personal choice, says Holewinski. One thing is for sure: Whether or not you opt for organic fare, packing your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables and lightening up on processed foods and animal fats is a smart way to give your health an boost.

SIX STEPS TO SAFER FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

1.  CHECK

Check to be sure that the fresh fruits and vegetables you buy are not bruised or damaged
Check that fresh cut fruits and vegetables like packaged salads and pre-cut melons are refrigerated at the store before buying. Do not buy fresh cut items that are not refrigerated.

2.  CLEAN

Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling fresh fruits and vegetables.

Clean all surfaces and utensils with hot water and soap, including cutting boards, counter tops, peelers, and knives that will touch fresh fruits or vegetables before and after food preparation.
Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Packaged fruits and vegetables labeled “ready-to-eat”, “washed”, or “triple washed” need not be washed.

Rub firm-skin fruits and vegetables under running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water.

Dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth towel or paper towel.

Never use detergent or bleach to wash fresh fruits or vegetables. These products are not intended for consumption.

3.  SEPARATE

When shopping, be sure fresh fruits and vegetables are separated from household chemicals and raw foods such as meat, poultry, and seafood in your cart and in bags at checkout.
Keep fresh fruits and vegetables separate from raw meat, poultry, or seafood in your refrigerator.

Separate fresh fruits and vegetables from raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Do not use the same cutting board without cleaning with hot water and soap before and after preparing fresh fruits and vegetables.

4.  COOK

Cook or throw away fruits or vegetables that have touched raw meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices

5.  CHILL

Refrigerate all cut, peeled, or cooked fresh fruits and vegetables within two hours

6.  THROW AWAY

Throw away fresh fruits and vegetables that have not been refrigerated within two hours of cutting, peeling or cooking.

Remove and throw away bruised or damaged portions of fruits and vegetables when preparing to cook them or before eating them raw.

Throw away any fruit and vegetable that will not be cooked if it has touched raw meat, poultry, or seafood.

IF IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT!

This is the latest news affecting the produce industry. The entire staff at Weis-Buy wishes to bring this to the attention of our customers!

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