What you choose to eat (or not eat) might seem like a minor decision in the moment, but in the long run, it adds up to have a major impact on your health. That’s why it’s important to get in the habit of reading labels and making wise choices — not just in terms of foods, but in terms of how those foods were grown and produced.
“Organic” means that a food is grown without any pesticides, hormones, synthetic fertilizers or genetically modified organisms. When it comes to animal products like meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products, organic means that those animals didn’t consume any antibiotics or growth hormones — hence why organic products tend to be a bit pricier than nonorganic ones.
The Environmental Working Group performs pesticide tests on foods and turns out the Dirty Dozen list (foods that have the most pesticides) and Clean Fifteen list (which have the least pesticides). For a quick-and-dirty guide to which foods you should buy organic (“Yes”) and what items you can afford not to (“No”), check out our list ahead.
If it’s green and leafy, you should buy organic. “There are some products that are just too dangerous to consume nonorganic because of pesticides and how easily they are absorbed,” Candy Calderon, a nutrition and fitness coach, tells SheKnows. “Spinach is definitely one of them.”
These greens are jam-packed full of iron and can be used as a replacement for iceberg or romaine lettuce in a salad. Try this apple spinach salad from Gimme Some Oven.
Yes: Milk and animal protein
Buying organic milk, poultry, meat and eggs ensures no use of antibiotics or growth hormones and that the cows, poultry and other animals were fed organic feeds themselves. “Eliminating antibiotics from your body will result in a healthier immune system because it will learn to fight for itself,” says Liz Vaknin, co-founder of Our Name Is Farm.
But there’s another reason to buy these products organic. According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, these products have more beneficial omega fats when produced organically. “The research concluded that grazing on greens allowed for both organic milk and meats to be higher in polyunsaturated fat when compared to conventional ones,” says Guiding Stars dietitian Allison Stowell.
The confusion over whether tomatoes are a fruit or a vegetable lives on, but one thing is for sure: Buy them organic.
“The most important fruits to buy organic are those with porous surfaces,” Vaknin says. “They are more likely to retain whatever [it] is they’re being sprayed with.” Try making fresh tomato sauce.
These succulent, heart-shaped fruits still hold their spot as No. 1 on the list after testing positive for over 20 different pesticides.
“Strawberries are a great fruit to eat,” says Amy Gorin, registered dietitian. “They offer filling fiber, providing 12 percent of the daily value per cup. Just be sure you rinse them thoroughly before eating!” Try her chocolate-strawberry overnight oats.
Gorin notes this new addition to the Dirty Dozen list this year. According to the EWG, 94 percent of the pears sampled contained pesticides.
“Pears provide cholesterol-helping fiber as well as immunity-helping vitamin C,” she says. Try this pear crisp from The Pioneer Woman.
Topping the list of produce you don’t need to worry about buying organic as much as other fruits and veggies are avocados. These green goddesses are often filed in the “healthy fat” category, and that they are.
The EWG tested over 3,000 avocados and only 1 percent showed any detectable pesticides. To get your fill of them, try this citrus-avocado salad by What’s Gaby Cooking.
No: Sweet corn
Another one that’s high on the Clean Fifteen list: sweet corn. While it tends to be higher in calories than other vegetables, it does have its fair share of healthy vitamins. Try Gorin’s honey-lime grilled corn salad.
No: Sweet peas
Sweet peas have very little pesticide residue and are safe to eat nonorganic. It’s a good thing too. “A cup of green peas provides a third of your daily fiber need,” says Gorin. Try these sweet peas with Parmesan and lemon recipe from Jessica Seinfeld.
When it comes to cereals, Jamie Leskowitz, certified dietitian-nutritionist at Weight Control Center at Columbia University tells us that most studies show no difference in toxins between organic and conventional varieties. Bring on the Rice Krispies treats!
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