8 Rules of Buying Organic: All the Dos & Don'ts

8 Rules of Buying Organic: All the Dos & Don'ts

Must-know facts on buying organic food for your family’s health and wellness.

By: Maressa Brown

When it comes to swapping conventional grocery store purchases for organic ones, it may seem like the extra expense isn’t necessarily justified. But the fact is that when it comes to organic produce, meat, or any other common supermarket buys, you can definitely pick your battles. Here, the eight dos and don’ts of buying organic -- and what science has found to be really best for your health.


1. Look at “organic” labeling closely. Although some products may claim to be organic, only those with the USDA Certified Organic seal have met certain criteria set by the government. And when it comes to fresh produce, you’ll want to make sure that the five-digit PLU number on the sticker begins with a 9 to ensure that it is organic.

2. Always consider buying organic for certain fruits and veggies. You may have heard of the Dirty Dozen, or a list of the most pesticide-contaminated produce. The list, from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), uses data from the USDA on the amount of pesticide residue found in non-organic fruits and veggies after they have been washed. Based on what they found, the EWG recommends eating organic versions of the following: apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines (imported), grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries (domestic), and potatoes. Plus, they prefer organic green beans and kale.

The reason: Studies have found that chronic, lower-dose exposure to pesticides is associated with respiratory problems, memory disorders, skin conditions, depression, miscarriage, birth defects, cancer, and neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease. And experts note that infants, growing children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and women of childbearing age are most at risk for adverse health outcomes from exposure to pesticides.

3. Stick with some conventional fruits and vegetables. Not all produce is grown equally. In addition to the Dirty Dozen, the EWG has a “Clean 15” list, which includes produce safe to purchase in its non-organic, conventional form. That includes avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, sweet peas (frozen), onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwi, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe (domestic), cauliflower, and sweet potatoes.

4. Consider buying organic meat and dairy. The organic versions of both are guaranteed not to have added hormones. While there’s not a wealth of research on hormones added to cattle or rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) given to dairy cows to trigger milk production, there is concern that manipulating growth hormones in animals may increase another hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF).

Higher blood levels of IGF have been associated with an increased risk of certain cancers. A study published in the journal Breast Cancer Research found that above-average IGF levels were associated with a nearly 50 percent higher risk of prostate cancer and a 65 percent higher risk of hormone-dependent premenopausal breast cancer.

More from P&G everyday: 7 Tips for Making a Smarter Grocery List


1. Simply wash conventional produce. Rinsing fruits and veggies that aren’t organic is a smart practice, but it won’t eliminate all pesticide residues. In fact, a study done at the


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Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station looked at the residues of 12 different pesticides on foods and discovered that three types were unaffected by washing.

What’s more, systemic pesticides -- designed to be absorbed by plants and found in conventional lettuce, broccoli, potatoes, strawberries, sweet peppers, and collard greens --will definitely not get rinsed away.

2. Make your decision based on extra “health benefits” of organics. Researchers at Stanford University Medical Center did not find strong evidence in a 2012 study that organic foods are more nutritious than conventional eats. But that’s not the reason you ought to go organic. Moreover, eating organic is a way to avoid exposure to toxins, which the researchers did acknowledge.

3. Confuse “natural” for organic. The term “natural” isn’t regulated and is loosely thrown around on packaging. Basically, it doesn’t have any sort of standardized definition.

4. Fall for “organic” seafood labels. The USDA doesn’t regulate fish or other seafood, and it isn’t required to meet any specific standards, so labeling claiming that salmon or shrimp on sale is “sustainable” or “organic” isn’t official in any way. It’s probably just marketing you’ll pay a premium for, so best to steer clear. But if you want to make a “cleaner” seafood purchase you can check details on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program site SeafoodWatch.org or the Natural Resources Defense Council site, NRDC.org.

What rules do you follow when it comes to organics?

Maressa Brown is a senior staff writer for The Stir. She loves writing about and reading up on health/fitness, relationships, and pop culture -- preferably on a beach somewhere.

Image ©iStock.com/MattoMatteo

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