Lots of folks, hoping to enjoy the benefits of higher-quality, higher-nutrition foods, make the choice to go organic. More than 60 percent of Americans - nearly twice the number in 2004 - purchased organic food products last year, and organic foods are among the fastest-growing segments of the food industry. Just take a look at the long lines you're likely to find in your local natural-foods market: It still amazes me to see just how many people willingly shell out top dollar for some sort of nebulous guarantee that we're buying better health for ourselves and our families. Are we making a smart choice?
In the Feb. 2006 Consumer Reports, we learn the answer: sometimes. More often than we care to think, however, we who go organic are fooling ourselves - and wasting lots of money in the bargain.
That isn't to say that many or most of these products aren't worthwhile; CR says certain items indeed are preferable to their non-organic kin. The magazine points to a new study of US Department of Agriculture data conducted by Washington, DC-based Environmental Working Group that says particular fruits and vegetables contain substantially lower amounts of the pesticides and contaminants routinely found in conventionally produced items. Fewer chemicals equals lower health risks, making these purchases smart ones.
More from the Orlando Sentinel:
Based on thousands of samples, the nonprofit research group came up with the "dirty dozen" — vegetables and fruits that have high pesticide residuals, even after washing. They are apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach and strawberries.
In short, buying the organic versions of the "dirty dozen" items is the way to go. (And if you can't afford to spend extra for organics, be sure to scrub your fruits and veggies thoroughly.)
Not all organic choices are as intelligent, though - particularly if you must watch every penny spent. CR notes that many items cost 50 percent more than their non-organic versions. Some items, including milk and meat, are twice as expensive. So, unless you are Oprah or the Donald, it's important to realize that the "organic" label sometimes isn't worth the inflated price. The EWG study says asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, kiwi, mangos, onions, papaya, pineapples and sweet peas don't have the contamination problems that, say, apples and spinach do, so it makes sense to save money and use the conventional variety.
The same holds for processed foods. Organic or not, they contain additives that tend to be on the unhealthy side. If you're determined to buy, for example, a frozen entree, there's little need to go organic when a Lean Cuisine can fill the bill for less money. The rule to follow is, if and only if the organic version is demonstrably superior to the non-organic (antibiotic- and hormone-treated milk, beef, eggs and poultry; "dirty dozen" items, etc.), buy it if your budget allows.