Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
28 Nov

Top 9 Most Important Foods to Buy Organic

In a perfect world, we’d all be shopping at farmers markets for our produce, tending to bug-eating, orange yolk-producing chickens in our backyards, pooling our resources with other folks to divvy up grass-fed and/or pastured animals, having the farmers who produce our food over for dinner, milking the A2-casein grass-fed teats with our bare hands into BPA-free containers, culling the geese down at the local pond and roasting the dead, foraging for seagull eggs, going mushroom hunting in the forest, ensnaring chubby winter squirrels fattened on acorns and small birds, raising kale-fed crickets for alternative protein sources, and, well, you get the idea. But that isn’t realistic for most people. And heck, who would want to go to all the trouble. What with how easy it is to just swing by the grocery store on the way home from work, especially with a filthy kid in the backseat who’s just out of soccer practice (on a muddy field, no less) and starving.

However, we still want to make the right choices. We want to buy the organic foods that provide the most bang for their buck, that make the most sense. You’ve probably heard of the Dirty Dozen – that annually-updated list of the twelve fruits and vegetables that contain the highest levels of pesticide residues. Let’s go beyond that, though, because unless you’re a vegan or a fruitarian who lives on produce alone, you’ll want to hear about other foods too. Particularly animal products, which you’re probably eating on a fairly regular basis.

The following list assumes you’re hitting up the regular, everyday grocery store – your Safeways, your Krogers, your Aldis – for most of your food. It’s roughly ordered from most important to least, though after baby food, dairy, and beef, the lines blur. I’d be hard pressed to choose between eggs and leafy greens, particularly given the amount of greens I eat. Luckily, this is just a thought exercise rather than a real dilemma for most. So let’s get to it. If there was one food item that I’d recommend you paying extra for, it would be…

1. Baby foods.

The human infant is a helpless sack of flesh and poop and pee. They’re cute and lovable, sure, but they can’t be relied upon to make good food choices. And because of their ridiculously long development time, babies are far more susceptible to pesticides, especially the endocrine disruptors. An adult can probably get away with a little xenoestrogenic activity from consumed pesticides, since the systems are all but established, but a young baby who’s still developing those systems? Pesticides can disrupt both fetal and childhood development. If your kid has moved on to baby food, make sure it’s organic – whether you make it from scratch or buy it at the store. That goes for the “traditional” pureed goop people give their kids, as well as the foods Primal parents are likely to offer, like liver, egg yolks, and pureed moose thyroid glands (what, you’re not giving your baby moose thyroid?).

2. Full-fat dairy.

Dairy isn’t universally lauded in the Primal community, but I’d guess a plurality of Mark’s Daily Apple readers eat some kind of dairy, whether it’s butter, yogurt, cream, or milk. If for whatever reason you’re unable to procure dairy from grass-fed cows (no, not everyone lives near a Trader Joe’s with affordable and ample stocks of Kerrygold grass-fed butter, sadly), make sure the full-fat dairy you do eat is organic. Organic dairy ensures a few things, assuming the producers follow the required guidelines. First, the latest rules stipulate that organic dairy cows must graze on pasture for the full length of the local grazing season, during which time they must obtain at least 30% of their calories from grazing. Local grazing seasons last at least 120 days, but often much longer, so your organic dairy will be coming from cows who eat at least a decent amount of fresh, actual grass. Second, conventional dairy cows eat conventional, pesticide-laden corn and soy, and those pesticides show up in the full-fat dairy. Most samples of regular butter, for example, contain pesticide residues, while organic butter does not.

3. Beef.

Organic meat cows must meet the same guidelines as organic dairy cows – pasture access during grazing season, 30% of calories from said pasture, etc. – so their meat is going to have at least a portion of the same benefits as full-on grass-fed meat, like improved CLA content, greater micronutrient status, and better flavor (if you like the actual taste of beef, that is). They’re far from fully grass-fed, true, but far better than conventional meat. Although organic meat from grocery stores will likely be raised on soy and corn, the feed will be neither genetically modified nor rich in pesticides. And organic animals aren’t allowed to receive antibiotics, nor are they pumped full of hormones. Most pesticides and contaminants preferentially accumulate in the adipose tissue, too, so especially make sure the fatty meat you eat is organic.

4. Chicken.

You might recall the hullabaloo over arsenic being detected in chicken tissue last year. That was bad, but then we learned that at least the offending food additive – Roxarsone, made by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer – had been voluntarily withdrawn from market, and we breathed a bit easier. New arsenic-based additives are still being used on chicken farms, though, and conventional chickens are still eating Roundup-ready corn and soy that’s been dosed with the organoarsenic pesticide MSMA (because, of course, it’s the only thing that will kill Roundup-resistant weeds). Perhaps the biggest concern, though, is that the fat-soluble pesticides used to produce chicken feed transfer quite well to the chicken tissues that we end up eating.

5. Eggs.

I’ll always say that eggs from pastured chickens – organic or not – are the best, but when comparing normal grocery store eggs to organic grocery store eggs, I’d strongly suggest organic. For one, the fat-soluble pesticides in chicken feed transfer to the egg yolks as well as the chicken tissues. Two, you always want to minimize the chickens’ exposure to pesticides. When your chickens are pastured, they’re getting a lot of their nutrition from bugs, grasses, scraps, and other sources, rather than just from grains. You can afford to skip organic in that case because the portion of feed with pesticides is relatively minor. If you’re dealing with primarily grain-fed poultry, though, going organic is the best way to minimize pesticide exposure.

6. Leafy greens.

Surface area, surface area, surface area. Leafy greens, particularly spinachkalelettuce, and collards, are virtually all surface area. As such, the entirety of their corporeal manifestation is wholly exposed to whatever’s being sprayed or applied on the farm to kill pests – and it’s tough to remove. You can scrub a carrot and wash a cucumber with vigor and they’ll stand it, but if you try to scrub a handful of mixed baby greens, you’ll shred the lot and end up with watery salad. Another mark in favor of going organic with greens is that you eat so many of them. The calorie content is low, but the average Big Ass Salad has hundreds of square inches of exposed leaf. That’s a lot of pesticide exposure, especially if you’re eating your leafy greens (you are, right?) on a regular basis.

7. Berries.

Not only are blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and other berries subjected to some of the heaviest pesticide loads, they’re also among the most antioxidant-rich of all fruits and vegetables. And when you let berries “fend for themselves” without the help of exogenous chemical protectants, they increase their own supply of endogenous chemical protectants – the polyphenols that provide so many of the benefits associated with their consumption. Organic blueberries, for example, are higher in total antioxidants, total phenolics, total anthocyanin, malic acid, and sugars than conventional blueberries. The same goes for organic strawberries, which were more nutritious and antioxidant-rich than conventionally-grown strawberries.

8. Anything on the Dirty Dozen that’s a staple.

This is sort of cheating, I know. But everyone’s different. One family might eat sautéed bell peppers every night, in which case they should probably spring for the organic versions to avoid eating the 3rd most contaminated item on a regular basis. Or another family might chow down on potatoes every day; if so, they should go organic on those. If you’re whipping up mirepoix for stock daily, go for organic celery. Ultimately, in order to determine which foods should be consumed in the organic form you must first establish which foods you eat the most. If this were a list intended for vegetarians, I wouldn’t include meat. If this were meant for a lactose-intolerant crowd, I wouldn’t mention dairy.

9. Apples.

You may not be eating many apples, but if you do, they are officially the dirtiest fruits out there. According to the Dirty Dozen folks, 98% of all conventional samples tested had pesticide residues. There’s also some evidence that organic apples have more polyphenols and greater antioxidant capacity than conventional apples, making organic apples a no-brainer decision.

The list isn’t an ironclad pronouncement that you must follow or risk death, dismemberment, and/or terminal illness, but it is a helpful guideline that I put together based on where I get my calories and the volume of the food I eat. Your personal list might look a little different, like if you eat more chicken than beef or eggs than dairy or berries than greens. Take a look at my reasoning, follow some of the links, and come up with your own list. Is it different? Identical? Let me know in the comment section!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I’m guessing baby carrots are bad… they taste like bleach.

    Marlene wrote on November 30th, 2012
  2. Coffee should be on this list– especially as much as I drink. 8 )

    lisa wrote on November 30th, 2012
  3. What’s wrong with the FDA?

    Jane Peters wrote on November 30th, 2012
  4. I live in an area where lots of fruit is grown, most of it by conventional methods. The importance of organic fruit, specifically apples, is not just what IS sprayed or added, such as pesticides, it’s also because conventional farming depletes the soil. Most fruit trees grow in very poor soil, which is augmented with chemical fertilizers that only add macronutrients, not the full range of minerals and other nutrients that make for wholesome nourishing food. All insect and microbial life that might live on a healthy plant grown in nature will be out of balance as a result of the environment these fruits grow in. Buying the organic versions means you’re getting a food that’s been grown in a more balanced natural setting, not the highly managed artificial setting many modern farmers prefer. And if you’ve ever driven through fruit country and seen spraying, know that much of that is not pesticides or herbicide, it’s various nutrients (minerals and oils) timed to enhance or regulate certain cycles the tree goes through, such as thinning if there are too many buds for healthy fruit production, delaying or hastening blossoming or ripening and so on. Most of these are not directly harmful to humans, but they’re not part of nature’s plan.

    JoAnn wrote on December 5th, 2012
  5. I always wonder if the tiny “organic”, 2x the price, section of the chain grocery stores are actually organic and what their standards are for the organic label. The most ridiculous thing I have seen in such places were the individually plastic shrink wrapped cucumbers and baby squash. They make a joke of the whole concept.

    Keith wrote on December 7th, 2012
  6. I try to eat healthier for myself and my for my family as well. I am into strength training and fitness so I do eat a decent amt and to eat all or mostly organic or farm fresh would be just too cost prohibitive.

    I just priced what 2lbs of grass fed beef, 1 4-6 lb chicken, 3 dozen eggs, and 2 gallons of milk would cost for a week if all organic/local farm and it would be at least $85.00 just for these 4 items. Conventional for three items and grass fed at a whole foods for the grass fed beef the total would be $34.00. The prices are absolutely ridiculous and they wonder why people can not eat organic.

    I am sure if I added up a few more items such as produce and even just a handful of packaged foods, the grocery bill would be at least $100.00 more each week or $400.00 to $500.00 more monthly. It is just not worth it. I will continue to get my meats and produce at Stew Leonards, at least I know where it comes from and it is usually mostly natural.The rest of the stuff will be shopped at sales at Trader Joes and the regular grocery store. There is absolutely no excuse for the outrageous prices typically set by the organic market. Maybe if they set more realistic prices, there would be more sales and demand and the profit curve would still go up !

    Kevin wrote on December 12th, 2012
  7. Why can’t there be stores that only have “ORGANIC” items – it drains my energy running around and searching for organic goods- and sometimes it doesn’t even look half as good as the non-organanic goods-

    Mish wrote on December 12th, 2012
  8. I live in a country where organic produce is normally not available (Kingdom of Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf). When it is available it has been flown in from Europe or South Africa and arrives old and nearly spoiled. The price is also prohibitive, 20 US dollars for 12 organic strawberries for example. Anyone have suggestions for how to remove pesticide residue on conventional veggies? Shukran! (thanks!)

    قاب البحرين wrote on March 19th, 2013

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