lush fresh vegetablesOrganic vs. Non-organic: why it makes a difference (and when)

Organic foods have become a popular concept in the modern quest for better health and wellness. They have become much easier to find, with more variety available than in previous times. Lots of people swear by the “organic only” rule when it comes to what they eat and it’s an admirable goal, but others are put off by the higher cost of these products and need to make a decision on when they should absolutely go organic and when non-organic is acceptable on a budget.

What is the difference between organic and non-organic foods?

Let’s start by defining the two options:

  • Organic foods are produced WITHOUT the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. They cannot be irradiated or genetically modified. They must be free of artificial dyes, flavors, additives, and preservatives. Organic meats must be from animals fed an all organic diet that have not been given antibiotics or hormones. Organic processed products must contain at least 95% organic ingredients (not including salt or water). They are labeled as being certified organic.
  • Non-organic products are, by default, everything else. Not all of these products contain a lot of chemical additives, but they usually contain some, and there is no way of knowing really how much.

Some people claim to be able to taste the difference between the two types, and since organic fruit and veg aren’t chemically ripened, this may be true in some cases. There is some argument about whether or not organic products contain more nutritional value, and cases can be found to support both sides of this argument.

What is important in organic foods is that they DO NOT contain the possibly harmful chemicals that are used to produce most modern food.

Many of these substances are being found to remain even in processed products and we don’t really know how much they accumulate in our bodies. To be sure they increase the detoxifying load on the liver when eaten on a regular basis.

How to do organic on a budget?

As stated about, the one major downside of organics is that they tend to cost more. Organic farmers have to spend time and money to become certified. They don’t depend on chemicals to produce huge yields from each crop and spoilage/losses to insects and crop diseases are a greater risk. It’s important, though to know which things you should ALWAYS buy organic and which you can really get by with non-organic versions.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out an annual list of the “Dirty Dozen” foods to always choose organic and the “Clean 15” foods it’s okay to buy non-organic.


Apples are grown using a lot of chemical pesticides, so it is best to buy organic apples.

Dirty Dozen 

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Peaches
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Potatoes
  • (Hot Peppers round out a 13th member of this list)

Clean 15 

  • Avocados,
  • Sweet Corn*,
  • Pineapple,
  • Papaya*,
  • Onion,
  • Frozen Sweet Peas,
  • Eggplant,
  • Asparagus,
  • Kiwis,
  • Cabbage,
  • Cauliflower,
  • Cantaloupe,
  • Broccoli,
  • Mushrooms,
  • Honey Dew Melon

*some sweet corn and papayas are GMO crops, so if that’s a concern for you – choose the organic of these two foods.

More complete information can be obtained at

Meats and other animal products should be organic, grass-fed, free-range, wild caught or at the very least antibiotic and hormone free as much as possible.

How do you clean non-organic produce?

For the items you choose to buy as non- organic, a simple soak in a 1 oz. baking soda to 100 oz. water solution for 10-15 minutes and then a rinse with clean water will help to remove most of any surface contamination. A 10% salt solution also works pretty well. Some people swear by vinegar washing, but it works best with straight vinegar and that can get expensive, plus may leave a slightly vinegar taste on your produce. For complete instructions on how to do this, check out:

Where is the best place to buy organic food?

Most grocery stores carry at least some organic products. It can vary pretty widely how much a variety is offered and the price points. You will have to shop around a bit to find the best selection and prices. Many of the bigger chains of stores and big-box warehouse stores carry a fair amount as well. Smaller local markets often local products and can be a good source for fresh from the farm items.

Check out local farmers markets as well. Many organic growers have a booth at their local markets and often have info on being able to buy direct from the farm.

Many areas have CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture groups) that sell subscriptions to weekly deliveries of whatever is in season at their farm.

And, in the ultimate convenience, most cities have grocery delivery services available and usually one or two of these are for all organic fare. Pricing varies and the more convenient/fancy the service the more you will pay, but there are a lot of options for getting your hands on organic foods.

There is no doubt that working to eliminate as many artificial and potentially harmful chemicals from your diet is an important part of living a healthier lifestyle. So many digestive complaints, allergic reactions, skin issues, fatigue and general inflammation can be avoided with a cleaner diet. If you start small, do a little research into what’s available locally and take a little time on the weekend to do some food prep; many harmful chemicals can be eliminated from your diet. There are great websites offering some super easy and delicious recipes for all that fresh food, so be a little adventurous!

Categories: Nutrition