On a car ride recently, my buddy told me he wanted to focus the next four weeks on getting a lean body.
His first question to me, though, on how to do it was surprising. He asked my thoughts on organic produce.
Organic produce should be the least of your concerns. Here’s why, plus the simplest system for choosing between organic and non-organic when you’re ready. (Hint: it’s not the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen.)
The Organic Produce Mistake
When people start their first small business, they usually make the same mistake.
They spend time and energy thinking about the wrong things.
Let’s use legal requirements as an example. You know, stuff like disclaimers, terms and conditions, and privacy statements.
This stuff is not trivial.
It’s just that, chances are, there’s a better approach to getting started. Get a basic understanding of the legal stuff then move on so you can continue plugging away at the big goal.
Same story with healthy eating and understanding organic produce.
Organic produce is complicated.
It matters, you should care, and you will care.
But once you’ve had a couple experiences with organic produce, it’s more important to keep working towards your big goal and do good things.
Let’s dive in.
The Icky Thing About Buying Organic Produce
There are several things about organic produce that make it complicated.
And, given its surface-level simplicity (organic = good?), many people get stuck on it. Instead, they should focus on simply consuming more fresh produce; not necessarily the organic kind.
Alas, here’s why it’s complicated (and, therefore, icky).
Organic Doesn’t Mean Healthy
Organic means something. But what?
The definition of organic produce is different for different items. And, the definition is changing all the time.
For example, a certain pesticide can suddenly become banned from use in organic apples. There are many forces behind these changing definitions, but we’ll just take it for what it is. Icky.
You see, even if produce is certified organic, it still may contain some pesticides. Those pesticides may just be non-synthetic.
But let’s assume organic is generally healthier.
What about organic Idaho potatoes? While they may be healthier than non-organic, I wouldn’t exactly call them healthy.
To this point, Whole Foods, is playing with a new ranking system that ranks some organic produce below non-organic.
So is organic bad? No. Organic, generally is superior to non-organic produce.
But how to you rank them? Well, not easily.
The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen has its Issues
Every year, the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen is published. It’s a list of the best and worst produce items from a pesticide-level standpoint.
It’s a clever list with good intentions. But here’s the problem.
Hard to Remember
Unless you carry the wallet card listing the current year’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, it can be worrisome that you’re gonna buy dirty or unnecessarily clean. And if you’re looking for a guiding principal (to avoid memorizing the list), there are a few. But, there are exceptions and no hard and fast rule by which to go.
With a list so long, you’re practically set up for failure. You might be forced to “buy dirty” with no other option. Or, you could find yourself suffering paralysis by analysis. And, getting no produce is hardly ever better than getting some produce.
The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen is a popular list because of its clever name. As such, the size of the list stays the same.
But there’s a big problem with ranking a constant sample amongst a changing field.
Let’s call it The Oscar Problem.
Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominates ten movies to win the Oscar for Best Picture. It’s their ranking for THAT year.
One year might have eight films that are inferior to all ten of the next. But since they have to nominate ten every year, ALL TEN are deemed a Best Picture Nomination. (Echem, Boyhood)
Same deal with the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen.
Some of the Dirty Dozen might not be THAT dirty. And, some of the Clean Fifteen might not be THAT clean.
But the show must go on, as they say.
So organic produce is complicated and might not be all that it’s cracked up to be. But organic must mean something, right?
Why Organic Produce Matters
As we already said, organic produce might not mean everything, but it means something.
I like to think of organic as a standard of quality.
It’s kind of like Kosher.
It’s not necessarily healthy. And, it’s often unrealistic for most of us to eat like that exclusively.
But it may be a worthy goal for which to strive. Just like eating organic produce!
Organic produce is certified for its pesticides (to greatly oversimplify) within, or lack thereof.
Generally, organic produce is:
- Higher in nutrients.
- Better for children and expecting mothers.
- Carries a lower risk of carrying potentially cancerous chemicals.
There are certainly a lot of point and counterpoints to the above. For sake of avoiding tons of backlash, let’s assume all of that above is not correct.
Still, my understanding of pesticides on produce is straight forward. Let’s discuss the box below.
Oversimplified Explanation of Pesticides
Farmers grow produce. Insects like to snack on this produce while it’s growing. Farmers don’t like this one bit. To prevent insects from stealing / ruining their crops (livelihood), the farmers use products to deter the insects. These products are called pesticides. Most crassly, bug spray.
Some crops require strong bug spray. Others a lighter version. Depends on the insects the crops attract.
Some crops require many types of bug sprays. Others, just a few. Depends on how many insects the crops attract.
Certainly, none of these pesticides, even their residue (leftover post washing) will kill you immediately. They won’t in the short term, either.
But they might in the long run.
Some studies say they’re killer. Some say their benign.
Regardless of pesticides’ long-term impact on us, I think it’s fair to say two things.
1. More pesiticides are worse than less.
2. Stronger, synthetic pesticides are worse than lighter, non-synthetic ones.
Now, let’s wrap this all up outside the box.
So organic labels on produce do matter and mean something, but the impact is uncertain and certainly abstract. Great. So what’s the impact on us today?
Why Organic Produce Will Matter to You
All the scientific stuff aside, there’s one major reason you will care about organic produce today.
Organic produce often tastes so much better than it’s non-organic counterpart.
Sure, in some cases (which we’ll discuss below), the difference is negligible.
But for some fruits and vegetables, the difference in taste is mind-blowing.
Side-by-side, some organic versions make their non-organic counterpart taste like nothing. Like, you know you’re eating a thing and are pretty sure what is it but it doesn’t taste like much of anything at all.
Grapes are a great example.
Have a few organic seedless grapes. You’ll think, “Oh wow. Those are little orbs of ecstasy.”
Then have a few non-organic ones. You’ll think, “Wait, what? Are those purple things even grapes?”
Plus, nutritional value is generally higher from organic produce.
So that’s one example of a produce item that’s better to buy organic. But what else? How do you decide?
What Produce to Buy Organic
If you commit to eating all organic, you’ll drive yourself nuts. Plus, with the sometimes significant price difference, you’ll go broke.
If, however, you dismiss organic produce completely, at best, you’re missing out on some wonderful taste experiences and nutrients. At worst, you’re setting yourself up for a bunch of avoidable illnesses when you’re much older.
So find a happy medium.
For me, there are a few produce items I always buy organic.
BAGS of Organic Produce
Generally, the more porous the produce, the “dirtier” it is.
Easy access for bugs to get what they want.
But it’s not a hard and fast rule. And as we discussed earlier, everything is relative.
So given all the info out there (potential long-term impact) and the relative difference in flavor and nutrients (short term impact), here are a few items I always choose to buy organic, if possible. Think BAGS.
BAGS: Blueberries, Apples, Grapefruit, and Strawberries
Let’s discuss each quickly.
Blueberries. Best example of non-organic versions tasting like nothing once you’ve tried organic ones. Also, there’s a big difference “cleanliness”, too.
Apples. Most health and wellness advocates say they’ll ONLY eat / recommend organic apples. Count Life is NOYOKE into that mix.
Grapes. As mentioned above. Go organic here. For example, it doesn’t matter if you have a Vitamix. A Going Green Smoothie tastes much different (worse) when made with non-organic grapes.
Strawberries. Classic definition of porous fruit that insects love to dig into uninvited. Huge difference in flavor, too. The huge, very red, non-organic ones are basically tasteless.
BAGS. I buy bags of these organic produce items. (I would add organic kale to the mix because I eat so much of it; just coudn’t fit it into the acronym.)
Jackets: The Stuff you Don’t Need to buy Organic
I use a really simple method of remembering which fruits and vegetables are not necessary to buy organic.
The Jacket Method.
It’s not an acronym. It’s just a literal description of what naturally protects produce from insects (thereby reducing the need for pesticides).
Bananas. The most perfect example of a jacket protecting the fruit. Non-organic is totally fine.
Avocados. Thinner than a banana peel, but no less strong, avocado skin is a great protector from the elements. Regular ol’ avocados are fine.
Pineapple. Not a traditional jacket here. At first glance, the outside seems porous. But the layer protecting the flesh of the pineapple is significant making the pineapple one of the “cleanest” fruits out there.
Save your money and get regular versions of these. They taste the same as their organic counterparts, too.
Now, despite trying to keep all this simple, we have a lot of info to digest and probably more questions.
So now what?
You’re gonna be faced with a lot of organic vs. non-organic produce decisions.
Don’t worry too much about it.
What’s most important is that you’re eating lots of any produce. Get in the habit of having your grocery store hauls being mostly produce, first.
Then, and only then, should you worry about organic vs non. And, at that point, use the BAGS and Jackets methods.
Your Best Bet
All organic produce buying decisions aside, there’s one simple way to buy better, healthier, more delicious produce.
Produce from your local farmers market, even if it’s not certified organic, is generally the freshest, healthiest, most delicious you can get. Plus, buying there might make you a happier person and save the world. 🙂
The Organic Center. https://www.organic-center.org/
Natural Resources Defense Counsil http://www.nrdc.org/living/shoppingwise/choose-organic-produce-where-it-matters-most.asp