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Is 'Organic' Worth It?

With food prices on the rise, it's not so easy to pay more for organic choices. Here's how to spend that extra coin and make it worth the investment.

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Feeling pressured to go green at the grocery store? The good news is you don't have to go 100% organic in order to eat healthier. And it pays to get smarter about just what you're getting for your money. Organic foods are grown without synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. "That means fewer chemical residues get into the environment and your body," says Marion Nestle, Ph.D., a food researcher at New York University and author of What to Eat. But it also means they're pricier—costing anywhere from 10 to 100 percent more—than conventional produce.

So what's a cash- and health-conscious person to do? The answer isn't to simply opt for organic no matter what. Not all conventionally grown foods are smothered with chemicals. So all you really need to do to protect your health, the planet, and your wallet is focus on buying just a few key organic foods. A good rule of thumb: "If you're going to eat the skin, consider organics," says MF adviser Tanya Zuckerbrot, R.D., a New York-based dietitian and author. "But if you can peel the fruit or vegetable, you're going to strip away a lot of the residues anyway—so it's not really worth the extra money."

Foods Worth Buying Organic:

Spinach and Lettuce
Most people already spring for expensive bagged salads—so why not pay a little more (around a dollar a bag) for the organic version?

Bell Peppers
One of the Environmental Working Group's so-called "dirty dozen"—12 types of produce that have the highest level of pesticide residue. Their company includes celery, peaches, nectarines, and cherries.

Apples
Ninety-two percent of the apples tested by the EWG were positive for pesticide residues—and 72% of those had more than one type of bug-killer on their peel.

Peanut Butter
Chemicals tend to concentrate in oils—one reason residues from up to 28 different pest-killers have been found in p.b.

Strawberries
Bugs love supersweet fruits, so it's no wonder that random F.D.A. tests found trace amounts of 38 different kinds of pesticides on these luscious, soft-skinned treats.

Microwave Popcorn
It's the oils that are to blame for the pesky contaminants in popcorn. Newman's Own organic brand costs only a few cents more per bag than Orville Redenbacher's.

 

Foods Not Worth Buying Organic:

Milk
Any residue from cattle feed ends up in milk fat, which gets removed if you drink low-fat or skim. And, contrary to popular belief, all milk—organic or not—is free of antibiotics.

Chicken and Fish
The USDA hasn't created official guidelines for what constitutes "organic" fish. Also, meats in general don't have as many residues as produce.

Olive Oil
Fewer synthetic chemicals are used in the production of olives than in other conventional
crops to begin with—so you're not getting that much bang for your buck if you buy organic.

Yogurt
Like milk, any trace amounts of residue in yogurt would come from the fruit mixed in, not the yogurt itself.

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