When Organic Matters and When It Doesn’t | The Quick and Dirty Guide (+ Printable List)

When Organic Matters and When It Doesn’t | The Quick and Dirty Guide (+ Printable Lists)

Organic Matters…True or False?

I have a confession. I used to feel annoyed at the mere mention of organic foods. Honestly, I really didn’t see the point, and was tired of coworkers harping on me about my “conventional” apple while they scarfed down an entire box of organic cookies. “Organic matters,” they’d tell me. But I wasn’t convinced it did.

And to be honest, I still don’t believe organic matters in a lot of instances. If you’re reading this post, you might not feel convinced either. So let’s start by talking about what “organic” really means, and then we’ll get into when organic matters and when it doesn’t.

Why Organic Matters

Food companies can write a lot of things on their packaging that mean nothing. For example, there are no regulations surrounding the words “all natural”. So if you spring for some “all natural” cereal, there’s no real guarantee that your cereal is, in fact, all natural. They likely won’t even provide a clear explanation of what that term actually means for that cereal.

In contrast, the word “organic” is highly regulated by the US Department of Agriculture. So if that word is on a package, it actually means something.

What does it mean? All requirements were met for that particular food to be labeled organic, which could include:

  • No synthetic pesticides used
  • No synthetic fertilizers used
  • Zero genetic modifications
  • Crops were rotated to ensure healthy soil
  • Nearby water was safe and unpolluted
  • Animals were only fed organic food, which was not treated with regular antibiotics or hormones
  • Animals were provided basic rights
  • And more

Now there are a long list of reasons that you should avoid eating foods grown using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, or raised using regular antibiotics and hormones. In fact, people have dedicated entire websites to just that topic, so I’m not going to go too deep into the weeds here.

But to sum it up, these things have been linked to poor health in the humans that consume them, and could even cause hormone disruption, neurodevelopmental issues, neurological diseases, cancer, and more. The list is long (and hotly debated!). Feel free to do some additional research regarding the scientific studies behind it all.

Now the problem with all of this knowledge is that organic foods are almost always more expensive than their conventional counterparts. Most of us either can’t afford to buy everything organic or don’t want to spend our whole paycheck at Whole Foods.

When Organic Matters

So what’s the best option? Choose organic where it counts most.

You should always shoot for organic if possible when it comes to animal products, like meat, eggs, and dairy. Then you can be sure that you’re not regularly receiving antibiotics or hormones in your food. If you’re having trouble finding organic meats nearby, you can always go the route of my family and have them shipped straight to your door through ButcherBox.

Fruits and veggies have more leeway, since some don’t require as much pesticide as others. For example, did you know that onions naturally repel bugs thanks to their pungent flavor? The thick skins of other fruits and veggies, like pineapples, protect them better from synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) compiled a few helpful lists to clue us into which produce we really should be buying organic (the “Dirty Dozen”) and which are actually pretty clean all on their own, no organic required (the “Clean Fifteen”).

What about packaged and processed foods? That’s really up to you. 

Personally, I feel a box of cookies is unhealthy for me whether it’s organic or not. That’s not to say that I never eat a box of cookies or buy them for my family, but that if I’m already eating cookies, I’m not especially concerned about if my cookies lived a cage-free life.

One way to help you make that decision is by using the EGW’s Healthy Living App (iOS or Android). You can use it to scan your food, instantly view its rating, and then decide from there. Bonus: They also rate personal care products!

Wrap It Up

So to wrap things up…buy all organic if you prefer, or just try your best to stick to these guidelines:

Animal products. Buy organic.

Fruits and vegetables. Follow the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists.

Packaged and processed foods. Make your own call.

Healthier eating is totally within your grasp. Do what you can, when it counts, and save yourself some time and effort on all the rest.

P.S. Want to print this list to keep for future reference? Download it here!

Disclosure: While all opinions are our own, we are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and other affiliate advertising programs, designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites, at no additional cost to you.

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