when to buy organic and when to save your money

Happy New Year!  I hope you have had a great start to the year so far, and are thinking about how you can make changes this year to result in a better you for 2018.

Throughout my health journey, one of the biggest thorns in my side has been organic food.  It can be incredibly expensive depending on where you live.  I once paid $12 for two organic chicken breasts on a quick trip to New York in 2015!  The great news is that not everything you eat needs to be organic.  Being smart about which foods you buy organic can help you get healthy without breaking the bank

Why Organic
You might be thinking, “why do I even need to buy organic food?”  Depending on where you live, your food can have additives like synthetic pesticides, growth hormones, or antibiotics.  It might have been grown somewhere where synthetic fertiliser was used.  All of these things affect the quality and nutritional value of the food.  In fact, studies show an inverse relationship between crop yields and nutritional content.  As crop yields increase, the nutritional value per crop declines.  As a result, many people will have deficiencies despite following a healthy diet.

Nutritional deficiencies are also replicated in animal produce.  Commercially reared animals are often overfed a synthetic diet in an effort to yield higher amounts of meat.  This results in a stressed animal that dies sooner and has less nutritional value.  Antibiotic use, which is standard practice in most commercial farming, has also been linked to antibiotic resistance in humans.

In order for us to maintain adequate health, it’s imperative to know where our food is coming from and choose the highest quality food available, when possible.  In my previous post on elimination diets, I highlight how food is imperative not only to overall health, but in healing the body.  Food is fuel for us, and we need the highest quality food to operate at an optimal level.  As a matter of fact, several studies have shown that farmers or people that live in a farming or farm-sharing community, who know exactly where their food comes from, tend to live longer than people in other occupations.

General Guidelines
Here’s the bad news: every country has different food standards, so understanding exactly what you need to buy organic versus what you can save your money on with non-organic is a minefield.  However, having a general sense of what makes something susceptible to the chemicals above can help you make decisions without going crazy.

I’ve used a similar format to my elimination diet post, which comes from the book , by Alejandro Junger, in order to keep consistency and make things easier.

Always Organic When Possible Non-Organic
Fruits & Vegetables Thin-skinned fruits and vegetables, like apples and cucumbers, fruits and vegetables eaten without peeling like berries, broccoli, celery For vegetables that require peeling, but are thin-skinned, like onions and garlic, it depends on the country you are in Thick skinned fruits and vegetables, like bananas and oranges
Dairy & Dairy Substitutes Rice, soy, or animal-derived, including products like cheeses, butter, yogurt, etc Almond, hemp, oat Coconut milk and coconut derived products
Starches & Grains Rice, wheat, corn Rye, amaranth, oats, and other grains
Animal Protein Beef, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, duck, eggs Wild game (rabbit, venison, bison, etc) Fish (never buy organic fish, as the standards are not much better than farmed; always go for wild fish)
Vegetable Protein Soybean products Split peas, lentils, legumes, bee pollen, spirulina, and blue-green algae
Nuts & Seeds Peanut & peanut butter Hemp, sesame, pumpkin, chia, and sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, walnuts, cashews, macadamia, pistachios, brazil, nut and seed butters such as almond or tahini
Oils Butter, salad dressings, mayonnaise Cold-pressed olive, avocado, flax, safflower, sesame, almond, sunflower, walnut, pumpkin Coconut (always check the ingredients to make sure it doesn’t have additives and ensure it’s still cold-pressed)
Drinks Coffee, alcohol, fruit juice, herbal and non-herbal teas Coconut water
Sweeteners Cane sugar, brown rice syrup  Honey, agave nectar, palm date sugar Coconut sugar
Condiments Soy sauce, teriyaki Vinegar, all spices, all herbs, sea salt, black pepper, carob, raw or dark chocolate (dairy and sugar free), stone ground mustard, miso, coconut liquid aminos, wheat free tamari and nama shoyu, unsweetened whole jam

In general:

  • Foods that will be eaten without peeling should always be organic
  • Foods that are traditionally GMO (like corn and soy) should always be organic
  • Foods that retain a high amount of pesticides like rice and strawberries should always be organic
  • Meat should always be organic
  • Fish should never be organic

Labelling & Why It Matters
One last thing I wanted to point out was labelling standards.  There are lots of differences (and misconceptions) regarding labels.  Just because something sounds organic, doesn’t mean it is organic.

  • Eggs, Poultry & Other MeatCage free means chickens are not kept in a cage, but are still penned up in a small enclosure.  In some cases, chickens do not go outside ever.
    • Free range means they are allowed to roam free in a larger enclosure, and have some hours of exposure outside.  Free range chickens can still be fed antibiotics, artificial feed, etc.
    • Organic usually means that the chickens are fed a natural, organic diet (but in some countries, like the US, can still be fed supplements and additives that are synthetic).
    • Natural diet can include words like grass fed, but again, has no indication of organic. It simply means that the animal wasn’t fed a synthetic diet.
  • Fruits & VegetablesFair Trade just means that the producers of the goods were paid a fair price for their product. It does not mean that the product is organic.

Other buzz words you might hear are eco, sustainable, line caught (for fish), natural.  None of these imply that the foods are organic.  You might also see very “earthy” packaging, like the use of leaves, green and brown labels, etc.  This is not to say that you shouldn’t buy it, but it’s important to be aware of times where you might pay twice as much for a jar of peanut butter that is essentially the same as the supermarket brand.  If you are going to spend extra money on organic, make sure that you are actually buying organic.  Don’t be fooled by the packaging!

Organic Standards by Country
If you want to find out more about the organic standards for your country, you can look at the following resources:

I hope I’ve given you a bit of insight into the organic food industry, why it’s important, and how you can eat organic without breaking the bank.  I would love to read your comments below!

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