The difference between organic and non-organic food has to do with the chemicals used while it is being grown. Farmers often treat crops with synthetic, man made chemicals including pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers. Genetically modified or engineered crops are common for varieties such as corn and soy and antibiotics or growth hormones are often used for livestock.
Full disclosure – organic food is not completely free from pesticides. There are certain natural, and a few synthetic, pesticides approved for organic farming. These substances are typically much lower in toxicity and are often derived from naturally occurring matter. Pesticides approved for use in organic farming include neem oil and pyrethrin, both which are derived from plants. A few synthetic chemicals allowed include copper sulfate, alcohol, chlorine products, hydrogen peroxide and soap.
The best route is to eat organic food, it’s best not only for our health but also for the environment. According to the Mayo Clinic, organic farming can have a number of positive impacts on the environment including enhanced soil and water quality, reduced pollution, enabling natural livestock behavior, and promoting a self-sustaining cycle of resources on farms. As far as our health goes, organic food generally contains more beneficial nutrients, such as antioxidants, and of course results in consumption of fewer, potentially toxic, chemicals.
If budget restraints prevent anyone from eating completely organic, there are options to help make positive choices. Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases its “Clean 15” and “Dirty Dozen” lists. The “EWG ranks the pesticide contamination of 46 popular fruits and vegetables”, the result is the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ which “helps guide consumers to make the best choices for their families and reduce their exposures to toxic pesticides”.
The Dirty Dozen list consists of the top 12 foods that were contaminated with more pesticides than other crops, according analysis of USDA data. When purchasing produce at your local grocery store, it’s recommended to purchase organic in these areas if nowhere else. The 2021 list includes:
- Kale, collard and mustard greens
- Bell and hot peppers
The Clean 15 list includes produce that had the least amount of pesticides. When purchasing non-organic produce, these options tend to have the lowest amount of residue. The 2021 list consists of:
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas (Frozen)
- Honeydew Melon
As mentioned, this list is evaluated and updated yearly, so what you see above might not be the most recent information. Please visit EWG’s site HERE to view the most up-to-date list.
Something to be aware of – just because a packaged food product says it’s organic doesn’t make it healthy. Food manufacturers like to play on the latest trends to sell more processed food to consumers. A box of cookies is still a box of cookies, organic or not.