Sales of organic food rose to a record $43 billion in 2016, an 8.4 percent increase from 2015. And it’s no surprise – not only does buying organic foods support sustainable agriculture, it’s also healthier: after all, organic doesn’t contain the harmful chemicals and pesticides that you’ll find in conventional foods.
But while it would be awesome if we could buy only organic foods, unfortunately, it can be tough on our bank accounts. So if you have to choose, here are our recommendations for organic foods that are especially worth the price hike.
Strawberries are worth buying organic for two very important reasons.
The first is that conventional strawberries are heavily treated with pesticides. They’re culprit number one on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list – a ranking of produce that contains pesticide residue – and because they’re so delicate, people don’t always wash them as well as they should. Seeing as the recommendations on EWG’s list are made for produce prepared for eating – in other words, already washed – if you’re not washing your conventional strawberries well enough, you could be ingesting even more pesticides.
But studies have also shown that organic strawberries are demonstrably better than their conventional cousins when it comes to their antioxidant profile. EWG scientist Dawn Undurraga notes that the results of this study show that you could eat "three servings servings of organic fruits and vegetables and get the equivalent of five servings of conventional.”
She also notes that while data isn’t available for all berries, “that doesn’t mean the same isn’t true for blackberries.”
“If we only talk about the foods that are tested, we're assuming that they're better, and that's probably not the case,” she continues. So if strawberries aren’t your favorite, you could probably opt for any organic antioxidant-rich berry and get the same benefits.
A 2016 study conducted by scientists from the UK, Poland, Norway, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, Greece, and Turkey found that organic meat contained 50 percent more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional. These fats are particularly essential to brain health.
From the Organic Authority Files
This health benefit is linked in large part to the grass feeding of cattle that is required for organic certification. Grass-fed meat is also richer in Vitamin K2, a fat-soluble vitamin present in cod liver oil and roe that works hand-in-hand with vitamins A and D. Vitamin K2 is also an enabler for calcium, and it has been linked to lower risk of heart disease, as it keeps calcium in your bones and out of your arteries.
3. Cow’s Milk Dairy
The same 2016 study also showed that organic cow’s milk dairy contained more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional, not to mention 40 percent more linoleic acid and slightly more iron, vitamin E, and some carotenoids.
But you’ll want to be even more discerning when it comes to cow’s milk dairy than just picking cartons with an organic label. Many organic milk producers have been attempting to artificially up the omega-3 fatty acid in their products by adding DHA algal oil, marketed as an organic nutritional enhancement thanks to a 2012 misreading of federal regulations that has been “quietly acknowledged” but not yet addressed by the USDA. Not only is this algal oil fed GMO corn syrup, but its presence can be proof that organic producers aren’t adhering to strict grass feeding regulations, meaning that you'll miss out on the other health benefits that this practice affords.
Kale and other leafy greens are some of the most pesticide-ridden foods out there, with USDA tests showing traces of 55 types of pesticides over the past two years. If you can't foot the bill for the higher price tag on organic kale, you might opt for conventional broccoli, which has been shown to have fewer pesticides.
“The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure,” explains the EWG. “Eating conventionally grown produce is far better than skipping fruits and vegetables.”
A recent study in Ireland found that organic onions contain more antioxidants and flavonols than conventional.
“While it’s a relatively narrow finding, it’s significant because the study lasted six years, which is reported as the longest-running study of its kind,” explains Dive Brief.
The study authors linked this discrepancy to differences in soil management practices including organic fertilizer, crop rotation, and cover crops, proving once and for all that organic agriculture practices aren't just better for the environment – they're also better for your health.
Related on Organic Authority
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Negligent Inspections, Misuse of Pesticides on Organic Imports, Revealed in USDA Audit