How to Pick the Best Organic Foods
So, you’ve made the decision to eat organic foods – GREAT! Now what? It’s time to learn how to choose organic foods at your grocery store and farmer’s market, and learn what all the labels on your fruits and vegetables really mean.
Just like with any other lifestyle change, having a game plan and knowing the rules of the game will make it easier for you to STICK to it and also set you up for SUCCESS. You can find organic grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and restaurants with our Organics Network locator by punching in your zip code to find which ones are nearest you instantly. Once you know where you're headed, take a look at these tried and true tips for choosing the best organic produce, meat, fish and dairy at your grocery store and local farmer’s market:
- Know the hierarchy of organic produce. Some fruits and vegetables have been proven to absorb more pesticide residue than others. These are the fruits and vegetables you should always buy organic. The “dirty dozen” (aka the fruits and vegetables with the highest concentration of yucky chemicals) are: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, grapes (imported), carrots and pears.
- Read and understand labels. You’re going to want to choose fruits, vegetables and dairy products that are labeled “organic.” Be careful though -- an “organic” label doesn’t necessarily mean 100% organic and “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “organic.” Know the difference between these labels:
- When a food is listed as “natural,” it typically means the food is preservative free and minimally processed. However, it does NOT ensure the food is organic.
- Only foods labeled “organic” have been certified by an independent agency as meeting USDA organic standards. These foods must have at least 95 percent organic ingredients, by weight or fluid volume, excluding water and salt.
- Foods labeled “100 percent organic” must only contain organic ingredients and produced materials, and must list the certifying agency.
- A food that contains less than 70 percent organic ingredients can list the organic ingredients in its ingredients list, but cannot bear an “organic” label on the front.
- Foods labeled as “transitional” are going through a three-year conversion process of being produced to meet USDA organic standards. If it came between choosing a conventional apple, or a “transitional” one – go for the transitional one.
- Know what’s in season. If you buy organic produce that’s in season, it’s more likely to cost less because it’s local, which means it traveled a shorter distance and therefore produced less pollution en route to the farmer’s market or grocery store.
- Know where to go. You’re more likely to find a wider variety of organic produce, meat and dairy products from specialty stores or health food stores.
- Get to know the farmers. Buying from your local farmer’s market is an excellent way to buy local produce, but you can’t always ensure the produce is organic. When in doubt, ask the farmer. When you shop at the grocery store, you are far removed from the source of your foods – not so at the farmer’s market! A lot of farmers implement organic production standards, but have just not gone through the USDA certification process.
You can find a list of important questions to ask the farmers here.
The Cliff’s Notes version? Buy foods labeled “organic” and that are in season. When in doubt, ask questions!
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