Thursday, March 18, 2010

Where your money is best spent on organic foods

We've been purchasing organic food as much as we can since we discovered Dr. Andrew Weil back in the mid-90s (hence my e-mail moniker, organic_mama). For a few years we split a share in a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm, all the rage here in Oregon, and since then we are avid shoppers at the Portland Farmer's Market, where about 65% of the farms are organic.

The reality is that eating organic food can be more expensive than conventional food, and I know it's not as readily accessible across the U.S. as it is in Oregon. So, if you want to take the organic plunge, what are the best foods to buy...and which are the safest foods to buy conventionally?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit advocacy group, analyzed the results of 51,000 USDA and FDA tests for pesticides on 44 fruits and vegetables items and identified which were likely to have higher amounts of pesticides. Here are the EWG's conclusions:

Dirty Dozen (Buy these organic if you are able):

1. Peach
2. Apple
3. Bell pepper
4. Celery
5. Nectarine
6. Strawberries
7. Cherries
8. Kale
9. Lettuce
10. Grapes (Imported)
11. Carrot
12. Pear

Clean 15 (lowest pesticide levels):

1. Onion
2. Avocado
3. Sweet corn
4. Pineapple
5. Mango
6. Asparagus
7. Sweet peas
8. Kiwi
9. Cabbage
10. Eggplant
11. Papaya
12. Watermelon
13. Broccoli
14. Tomato
15. Sweet potato

According to the EWG, "people who eat the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables consume an average of 10 pesticides a day. Those who eat the 15 least contaminated conventionally grown fruits and vegetables ingest fewer than 2 pesticides daily."

Beyond fruits and vegetables, experts also recommend that families purchase organic milk (no antiobiotics, artificial hormones, or pesticides); potatoes (one survey found that they account for 30% of our total veggie consumption, and the EWG found very high levels of pesticides in potatoes as well); peanut butter (given that kids eat so much of it, and peanuts are usually treated with fungicide as well as pesticide); and ketchup (organic ketchup has about double the antioxidants of conventional ketchup).

Organic peanut butter and ketchup are not as easy to find as fruits and vegetables, but most health food sections of grocery stores have them. We have found organic peanut butter at Costco, although only the creamy kind (I actually prefer chunky), and Trader Joe's is a great source for organice ketchup, peanut butter, and plenty of other items. We also purchase organic/free trade coffee, other dairy products, and eggs. And you'll remember my urging to buy fair trade chocolate!

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