How to Choose the Best Organic Foods

Two Methods:Purchasing the Right Types of Organic FoodIncluding Conventional Foods

Organic foods, clothing, and cosmetics have taken center stage in the sustainable food and lifestyle arena. These environmentally friendly foods and products are typically widely available to most people and can be found at your local grocery store. 100% organic foods are grown and farmed sustainably without the use of any pesticides or chemicals.[1] Although organic foods are not nutritionally different from conventional foods, they do offer many benefits including: may have a better taste, contain little to no additives or artificial preservatives, carry much lower levels of pesticides and are beneficial to the environment.[2] However, knowing exactly what types of organic foods are the best to buy can help you purchase the right types of foods for you and your family.

Method 1
Purchasing the Right Types of Organic Food

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    Read the labels. If you're interested in purchasing organic foods, you'll need to understand organic labeling laws. Not everything labeled "organic" is necessarily 100% organic.
    • Foods that are labeled as 100% organic or organic must abide by the following: be produced without genetic engineering, radiation or sludge; not use any chemicals or pesticides in the farming process; and go through and pay for the USDA certification process.[3]
    • Foods that are labeled 100% must meet these guidelines. In addition, all of their ingredients need to be 100% organic as well. No other additives outside of water or salt are permitted.[4]
    • Foods that are only labeled organic, do not necessarily need to be 100% organic. However, they do need to be 95% organic.[5]
    • If you're interested in organic foods, make sure they are labeled as such. Avoid products without specialty labeling.
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    Shop locally. Some of the best types of organic foods you can buy - of all categories - is locally grown organic products. The benefits of these foods extend beyond the benefits of organically raised items.
    • Local foods and produce are many times, more flavorful. These foods are picked at the peak of freshness instead of being picked early to account for long shipping and transit times.[6]
    • Locally grown items are often higher in nutrients as well. Foods that are grown far away or in other countries slowly lose many of their nutrients over time.[7]
    • Like organic foods, local produce is also environmentally friendly. You don't need to have the items shipped far and it helps support the local farming community.[8]
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    Go for organic fruits and vegetables. Some of the absolute best foods to buy organically grown are fruits and vegetables. These foods tend to be the "dirtiest" or contain the highest amount of pesticide and chemical residues.[9]
    • You can of course, go for all organic fruits and vegetables. However, organics can be costly to purchase and put you over your food budget. The method of farming and lower output makes these foods pricey.
    • If you want to limit your organic produce purchases to be more economical, consider only purchasing organic versions of the common "dirty dozen." The following foods are known to have the highest amount of residue: apples, peaches and nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, snap peas and dark greens.
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    Always choose organic red meat. Although there is benefits to buying all organic protein sources (due to less chemicals, hormones and antibiotic use), the best protein to buy organic is red meat.
    • Studies have shown that many of the hormones that beef cattle are given can cause an increase in cancer risk in those who consume it.[10]
    • In addition, many cattle are given a variety of antibiotics when they are raised and these levels of antibiotics have been shown to show up in the meat itself.
    • In addition, the USDA believes these antibiotics and the common use of them may lead to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.[11]
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    Choose organic dairy products. Similar to beef products, dairy products can also be contaminated by the chemicals, hormones and antibiotics the cows are fed or given when they are raised. This is a great group of foods to buy organic.
    • Milk makes up a large part of the dairy foods consumed. Studies have shown that conventional milk contains higher levels of rBST or rBGH.[12]
    • In addition, if you have children or you yourself drink large quantities of milk, use it in cereal or oatmeal or to make smoothies, buy organic milk.
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    Purchase organic baby foods. Although there is no nutritional difference between conventional and organic baby food, purchasing organic baby food is a good idea.
    • Infants and babies may be more susceptible to the residues found in conventional produce used to make baby foods. Their immune systems are not as mature as an adults.[13]
    • If you're purchasing baby food, go for 100% organic - especially of the "dirty dozen".
    • In addition, if you're making your own baby food from scratch, use 100% organic meats and produce.
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    Consider purchasing organic and chemical-free household goods as well. Outside of the food arena, there are other household products that are considered organic or free from harmful chemicals. These may be good to buy in addition to your organic foods.
    • Many non-stick cookware pieces - like pots and pans - contain a fluorochemical called PTFE. Studies show when heated, even for 2-5 minutes, the pan releases toxic chemicals into your food and air that can coat your lungs and cause allergy-like symptoms.[14]
    • Many cleaning agents contain harmful chemicals like bleach, ammonia, chlorine and phthalates. All can irritate the skin, eyes and respiratory tract.[15] Buy natural or chemical-free versions of your household cleaners.

Method 2
Including Conventional Foods

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    Purchase produce that has minimal residue. Many different types of fruits and vegetables are grown differently and require different farming techniques to maintain. This changes how much or how little pesticide residue is found on certain foods.[16]
    • Outside of the "dirty dozen" are some foods that contain relatively low amounts of pesticide residue. If you're only purchasing organic food to avoid pesticides, not for environmental reasons, consider purchasing the less expensive versions of these foods.
    • Foods that are much lower in residues include: onions, corn, pineapple, kiwi, mushrooms, avocado, eggplant, mangoes, sweet peas, asparagus, cantaloupe, cabbage, watermelon and sweet potatoes.[17]
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    Choose quinoa over other grains. Grains like wheat, rice, barley and rye are all plants and can be grown either organically or conventionally. However, choosing quinoa can be the best choice of all.
    • Not typically included in the "dirty dozen" list, grains still can contain some pesticide residue just like other fruits and vegetables.
    • In addition, any products made from grains - like bread, pasta, wraps, tortillas, crackers, or muffins - will also contain those same pesticides.
    • Quinoa, however, has a naturally occurring pesticide that makes it nearly impenetrable to pests and bugs.[18]
    • Instead of rice or other grains, choose to serve quinoa. You can also purchase pasta and other products made from quinoa flour.
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    Avoid purchasing organic seafood. Unlike beef, chicken or pork, the USDA has no organic labeling standards for fish or shellfish at this time.[19] Stick to conventional seafood to avoid a higher price.
    • The organic definition refers to chemicals and pesticides. However, even organic seafood still can contain harmful levels of PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls) and mercury.[20]
    • Instead of going for organic seafood, choose fish or shellfish that is low in mercury or other contaminants like tilapia, sole, oysters, catfish, crab, scallops, shrimp, herring, haddock, and flounder.[21]
    • Also choose fish and shellfish that are raised or caught using sustainable fishing methods.


  • Remember, many organic foods are more expensive than conventionally farmed produce and other products. Don't be surprised if your grocery bill is slightly higher.
  • Although a frequent misconception, organic foods are not healthier or more nutritious than organically farmed foods. They have the same nutrient content.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Food Selection and Storage | Nutrition and Lifestyle Eating