Organic agriculture is a $27 billion dollar business in North America. It’s important to be informed about your food choices and not be swayed by savvy marketing. Consumers have to learn to get the facts and dig a little deeper…so lets dig in!

Is it worth paying more for organic food?

After visiting several local farms, speaking with some of Canada’s top chefs and doing some diligent Google research the verdict is, sometimes it’s worth paying extra for organic— and sometimes it isn’t.

Stanford researchers conducted a study to offer definitive analysis of the health benefits of organic produce. They expected organic to be more nutritious and were surprised when it wasn’t. Dr. Dena Bravata, the senior author of the paper, said to the New York Times: “When we began this project, we thought that there would likely be some findings that would support the superiority of organics over conventional food. I think we were definitely surprised.” Bravata and her team did find detectable pesticide residue on a third of the conventional produce, and on 7% of the organic produce. Organic enthusiasts will say that’s why they buy organic: to avoid pesticide residues. But the Stanford researchers say virtually none of the residues they discovered were above the allowable limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Yes, you can certainly question whether those limits are stringent enough. And many people do. But you can also wash your food.

If you have a limited budget for organics, it definitely is worth paying more for organic meats, cheeses, milk and eggs. Animal proteins make up a large part of most people’s diet and take the longest time to digest, so going organic in this area will significantly reduce your exposure to growth hormones and other harmful chemicals.

With fruits and vegetables, if you are most worried about pesticides, take a look at the Dirty Dozen (+1)  list below to determine which vegetables and fruit carry the most pesticide residue and should be bought organic:

The Clean Fifteen are where you may be wasting your time worrying about whether they’re organic when the real question should be whether they’re local or not.

As a Canadian, I would rather buy a nonorganic Canadian apple than an organic apple from Chile. Why? Food miles.

Fruits and vegetables from outside Canada must be shipped over enormous distances, so foreign growers will sometimes resort to sleights of hand—such as tinting the skin of oranges—in order to give their product the illusion of freshness. Local produce is always much fresher and seasonal which means the nutrient density and flavor are at their peak when picked. Even if local produce isn’t certified organic many local farmers have environmental goals similar to those of organic farmers and use healthy organic sustainable farming methods to grow and harvest their crops.
Many people are misled to think organic cereals are healthier. Truth is, when it comes to grains and cereals, there isn’t much difference, even though organics can cost 80% more.

Changing your usual shopping routine to include more sustainable foods can seem expensive. Here are some ideas to help you:

Shop at a farmers’ market. This allows you to get to know your farmer and their growing practices.

Eat seasonally. When the items you are buying are in season, the flavor and nutrient density will increase and price will decrease. Many times farmers will sell in bulk for a discount too. Ask!

Buy dried goods, especially beans and grains, in bulk.

Plan your weekly meals before you shop and go to the store with a list so that you don’t overbuy.

Don’t grocery shop hungry. We know what can happen!

Eat less meat. Protein substitutes such as green lentils, eggs, nuts and cultured Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are definitely less expensive.

Replace a meat-focused meal to reduce costs and increase health!

Cook in bulk and freeze the leftovers for lunches and for when you are short on time. It will save you from buying processed and expensive options.