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Is Going Organic the Way to Go?

by Amy Campbell, MS, RD, CDE

It’s important to remember that the amount of calories, carbohydrate, protein, and fat in organic foods is the same as in traditional foods. Therefore, eating an organically grown apple will have the same effect on your blood glucose as eating a regular apple, so the rules of carbohydrate counting and meal planning still apply.

Downsides to going organic
Could there possibly be any reasons not to go organic? Perhaps you’ve been curious about the organic food products appearing in your local supermarket. But chances are, you’ve also experienced sticker shock at the high prices. Organic foods can cost anywhere from 50% to 100% more than conventional foods. Many people’s food budgets can’t accommodate the higher cost. Some reasons for the high cost are that organic farmers produce more labor-intensive foods, they typically grow organic foods on a smaller scale, and they don’t receive government subsidies the way other farmers do. But despite the price tag, more and more people are spending their money on organic foods, as evidenced by the over $15 billion in organic food and beverage sales in 2004. Consumer Reports states that organic foods sales are projected to be more than double that amount by 2009.

Something else to think about: Organic foods may spoil sooner than conventional foods. This is because no chemicals are used that would prolong shelf life. Mold, fungus, and contamination by insects and rodents are more likely to occur with organic foods. Organic foods may taste different from batch to batch, due to factors such as variations in weather and soil conditions, animal feed, and preparation.

Be smart about going organic
Whether you’re already buying organic or are still mulling over the pros and cons, here are some guidelines that can help you eat healthier, benefit the environment and organic farmers, and save money all at the same time:

  • Buy locally grown organic foods. Locally grown foods tend to be fresher and have lower transportation costs. For a quick way to find markets, farms, restaurants, and even caterers in your area that sell or serve organic food, go to www.eatwellguide.org.
  • Take advantage of farmers’ markets and food coops in your area.
  • Buy foods in season. It makes sense to enjoy tomatoes in the summer months, for example.
  • Do some comparison shopping by checking the flyers of grocery stores in your area. Take advantage of sales. Sometimes organic foods can actually be cheaper than conventional foods.
  • Don’t overlook store-brand organic foods. Some stores, such as Wild Oats and Hannaford Supermarkets, have their own line of organic foods.

Some foods are definitely worth buying organic, but some are not. According to researchers at the Environmental Working Group in Washington, DC, you should consider buying organic versions of the following fruits and vegetables because the conventionally grown versions may contain high amounts of pesticides:

  • Apples
  • Bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Cherries
  • Grapes (imported)
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Potatoes
  • Red raspberries
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries

In addition to produce, it’s worth buying organically produced meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy foods because by doing so, you’ll limit your risk of exposure to mad cow disease, hormones, and antibiotics.

If you have the money to spend, you might consider buying organically grown asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, kiwifruits, onions, peas, and pineapples. However, pesticide residues are rarely found in their conventionally grown counterparts. Bread, cereal, pasta, potato chips, and canned or dried fruits and vegetables also tend to have low levels of contaminants, so you don’t necessarily reap any additional benefit by buying the organic versions of these foods. But if you decide to buy organic bread, for example, make sure that it’s labeled as either “100% Organic” or “USDA organic.”

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