Buying Organic

When Is It Worth the Price?

Buying Organic
October 14, 2015

Whenever you grocery shop, you are faced with a variety of options for each type of food you buy. Sometimes you have to decide between different brand names, while other times you need to choose between different types of produce. (We prefer Fuji Apples to Granny Smith.) For many grocery store items, you may be offered an organic choice as well. But is organic necessarily better, or worth the additional cost?

What Are Organic Foods?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets the rules for what is and isn’t organic, and has two different organic standards: "USDA Organic", and the stricter designation, "100% Organic".

General foods, as well as crops, cannot be considered USDA Organic if synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation or genetic engineering is involved in the production process. Foods like bananas, apples and corn fit into the crops category.

For livestock, producers must meet animal health and welfare standards as well as use 100% organic feed. Producers cannot use antibiotics or growth hormones and livestock must have access to the outdoors. This mostly applies to meat you may consume, as well as any animal byproducts such as milk or eggs.

To be labeled “USDA Organic”, multi-ingredient foods must meet the same requirements as stated above, on top of proving that 95% or more of the content of the food is certified organic.

The more exclusive label “100% Organic” can be applied if 100% of the ingredients are organic and all of the other rules of the regular USDA Organic label are followed.

What to Consider about Organic Foods

Before you decide to buy only organic food, take a minute to consider how organic foods will affect you. Not all organic foods should be considered equal. Some organic foods simply use less pesticides and non-organic ingredients, or avoid production processes that disqualify foods from being organic, so there may not be much additional value in the food to warrant the higher price.

Several studies have been conducted to compare the chemical compositions of organic foods with those of conventional foods. Some research has indicated that organic crops and meat contain higher levels of nutrients including phosphorus, omega-3 fatty acids and certain polyphenols with antioxidant properties. However, the evidence is not yet conclusive and there is still much debate over the financial value associated with the nutritional benefits of organic food.

When Organic is Worth the Higher Price

When it comes to foods that normally have a high percentage of pesticide residues, it may be worth the additional cost to go organic, since you could directly consume these unwanted items. For instance, lettuce and spinach often have pesticide residue on their leaves, which is exactly the part that you eat. Apples are another big offender when it comes to pesticides. In order to produce apples at a reasonable price, pesticides must be used to keep bugs from damaging apple crops.

Keep in mind, if you do not eat the outside layer of a food and the pesticide is only topically applied, it often does not make sense to splurge on the organic item, since you will dispose of the skin, rind or peel before you cook or eat it. An example of such a food is a banana since you throw away the potentially pesticide-covered peel before you consume the inside of the fruit.

Not sure if a pesticide is applied topically or not? Think about where the food grows. If the edible part of the food grows above ground, a topical pesticide may have been used to ward off bugs.

Other produce items that often have pesticide residue include bell peppers, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, cherries and celery. Since you do not remove the outer layer of these items, choosing to buy organic may allow you to sleep better at night, knowing that you have helped your family to avoid consuming pesticides.

Items Not Worth the Added Price

Of course, not all foods require pesticides in order for them to be produced at a reasonable price. Items like milk do not contain many pesticide residues. While cows may eat grains covered in pesticide residue, the residue usually ends up in the fat. If you buy skim milk, fat is removed and the unwanted residues along with it. The same can be said for low-fat yogurt and many of the non-fatty meat portions you buy.

Additionally, the USDA has not yet determined standards for what would make fish organic. What one person calls an organic fish may vary wildly from what another vendor claims is organic, so you likely are better off not paying the higher price for organic fish.

Some of the least-contaminated foods include onions, asparagus, pineapples, mangoes, broccoli, cabbage, bananas, frozen sweet corn and frozen sweet peas. Many of these have outer layers that are not consumed so even if there were residue, it would likely be discarded prior to consumption.

When it comes to buying organic food, make sure to buy items that give you the most organic bang for your buck. Our simple rule: if you eat the skin, buy organic. If you throw the skin away, do not throw your money away buying organic versions of those foods.

Photo © Steve Debenport

  Conversation   |   30 Comments

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Steffanie | 10.14.15 @ 14:30
This is why we grow our own produce and our own meat. We know what goes in or on them. Buying at the grocery store is risky, but if we have to in the winter we do as little as possible.
Chrisitna | 10.14.15 @ 14:31
I usually only buy organic if the price is roughly the same as the non-organic produce. I wash all of my produce and berries thoroughly and just can't afford to pay higher prices for organic.
Jonathan | 10.14.15 @ 14:31
Organic certification is basically a government scam, you basically pay the government thousands of dollars to send an inspector out.
Sarah | 10.14.15 @ 14:31
Great article on which foods are better off organic since they tend to go for such a hefty price.
Elaine | 10.14.15 @ 14:33
I think growning your own is the best option.
trish | 10.14.15 @ 14:41
i have searched for a list of items to buy organic and which don't make much of a difference...I would love to feed my children and myself all organic, but cannot afford to do so.
Carla | 10.14.15 @ 14:42
I didn't realize there were different types of organic. We get most of our vegetables from the local farmers market.
Christina | 10.14.15 @ 14:48
I grow most of our produce. Love having a garden, and the savings.
Nancy | 10.14.15 @ 14:49
Buying organic is a costly added expense. It helps to know what is worth it and what it all means.
STOKES | 10.14.15 @ 14:49
Instead of buying "organic", shop at your local farmer's market where you can ask the grower about their farming practices!
Angie | 10.14.15 @ 14:49
These are good tips - I try to grow a lot of our summer produce, so I know it's not contaminated with pesticides.
Daniel | 10.14.15 @ 14:50
Great info for anyone looking to know the real differences in your produce markets, though I prefer home grown as much as possible there are things it can be worth the extra cost for.
Clarissa | 10.14.15 @ 14:51
I prefer homegrown fruits and veggies. My mom has a fairly large garden and although all my produce can't come from there, it's so much healthier. I don't buy organic often, but this article is great!
George | 10.14.15 @ 14:54
We grow most of our produce, or go to the farmers market.
Heather | 10.14.15 @ 14:55
We usually by organic and nonGMO products. We do try and can as much as possible over the summer. I like knowing what is in the food we eat.
Kamie | 10.14.15 @ 14:58
I do not buy organic foods
gracie | 10.14.15 @ 14:59
It's also helpful if you can grow some of your own favorites so you can be assured what you are getting. If I am buying organic I try to buy from local farmers markets because it's too expensive at the local stores
Alec | 10.14.15 @ 15:16
I'd love to grow my own fruits and veggies one day to avoid trying to figure out if something is safe to eat or not. We buy regular fruits and veggies since we can't afford organic but we do wash them. This article was a great help explaining the difference between the two types of organic.
Britt | 10.14.15 @ 15:16
I try to buy organic as much as possible.
Jo Ann | 10.14.15 @ 15:16
Kyle | 10.14.15 @ 15:18
I would love to switch to natural and organic foods, but the prices are so expensive.
Bobbie | 10.14.15 @ 15:18
I can't afford organic prices on anything. Fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive enough that we eat whatever is on sale.
Kailie | 10.14.15 @ 15:20
I've been doing organic fruits and veggies for the last year or so - it's not so bad when you help the costs by growing most of your own veggies.
Crystal | 10.14.15 @ 15:22
We rarely buy organic. I agree growing your own is the best option.
Beverly | 10.14.15 @ 15:23
I don't trust most organic labels and refuse to pay the higher prices.....sometimes they are outrageous
Zanna | 10.14.15 @ 15:38
Support your local farmers - buy at farmers' markets, co-ops, and locally sourced stands. Do yourselves and local farmers a favor!
irene | 10.14.15 @ 15:38
Things like potatoes that we eat a lot of and that I don't always peel are worth it to me to buy organic.
Amanda | 10.14.15 @ 15:47
Organic foods are a ripe off! Fruits and veggies, milk products are expensive enough without the government lying saying it's better for you. Every farm will and does spray for bugs or they wouldn't have crops which in return affects animals food. Buy the food you can afford and wash the fruit and veggies!!!! Problem solved, but oh, watch that soap you're using as I'm sure it's full of chemicals as well... or the air you breath and the air the plants use for growing!
Debbie | 10.14.15 @ 15:50
I prefer to buy organic chicken because I have seen a mass producing chicken farm and its disgusting. Fruits and veg though save the money and wash them carefully
Tina | 10.14.15 @ 15:51
I enjoy growing my own, but it's becoming harder and harder to find non-GMO seeds :-(
$commenter.renderDisplayableName() | 12.04.20 @ 15:06