Organic Eating: A Grocery List For Beginners

There’s a lot of talk about clean and organic eating, and while some diet trends come and go – yes, we’re looking at you cookie diet and five-bite diet – organic eating is here to stay. However, food labels and grocery store advertising can be confusing, and it might not always be clear what foods are worth the extra buck.

Here’s a breakdown on the difference between organic and clean eating, why you should buy and eat organic, what foods are worth spending the extra money on, as well as a brief rundown of the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen.” With this knowledge, you can grocery shop with ease.

The Difference Between Organic And Clean Eating

So what’s the deal on clean eating? Is clean eating the same thing as eating organic? Is it a diet, a lifestyle, or just a fly-by-night foodie term tagged in countless tweets and blogs?

Clean eating is the practice of eating whole, natural foods. Fruits, vegetables, non-fat dairy, lean proteins such as skinless turkey and chicken, and complex carbohydrates are all clean foods. Clean eating promotes eating foods that are free of preservatives, artificial ingredients, saturated fats, and trans fat.

According to Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, food that’s clean is real, honest-to-goodness food; it’s not food laden with ingredients that compromise health, such as sugar substitutes, artificial flavorings, and artificial colorings. In other words, clean food are foods in their most natural state. When it comes to clean eating, there’s one general rule of thumb: the less ingredients a food has, the better. Foods can be clean, however, without being organic.

Organic focuses on the process and conditions used to grow the food. Eating organic means eating food that’s free of synthetic pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and GMOs. Organic food carries an organic label – USDA Organic – which means the farm where the produce was grown or livestock was raised meets rigorous standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Those standards might include raising livestock on organic feed or using only fertilizers like compost or manure.

When you go grocery shopping, this is where things can get tricky. Foods that have at least 70% organic ingredients often have labels that say: “Made with Organic Ingredients.” However, this isn’t the same thing as the USDA Organic label. Due to the fact that organically produced food is more expensive than non-organic food, food manufacturers have a clever way of squeezing the wallets of unsuspecting shoppers.

This brings us to the next question: when should you eat organic and what foods are worth the extra dollar?

The Dirty Dozen And The Clean Fifteen

While you’re in the produce aisle at the grocery store looking for firm tomatoes and ripe bell peppers, the Environmental Working Group is testing produce to see which fruits and vegetables are contaminated with the most chemicals and pesticides. Almost every year, the Environmental Working Group puts out a list of the dirty dozen and clean fifteen.

The dirty dozen represents the produce with the most pesticides, and the clean fifteen with the least. When it comes to making an organic grocery list, the first place you should start is produce, especially the fruits and vegetables grouped in the dirty dozen category. Organic produce is chemical and pesticide-free. Spend the extra money and don’t expose yourself to potentially harmful chemicals.

The Environmental Working Groups lists the following products as the dirty dozen:

  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Nectarines
  • Cucumbers
  • Strawberries
  • Cherry tomatoes grapes
  • Snap peas (imported)
  • Celery
  • Potatoes
  • Kale/collard greens

If you’re on a budget and need to carefully pick and choose what organic foods you spend money on, the fruits and vegetables on the list of clean fifteen have the least amount of chemicals and pesticides:

  • Avocado
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet peas (frozen)
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet potato

Sustainable Agriculture

Organic food is healthier for you than non-organic food. It has lower levels of toxic metals and pesticides and a wide range of antioxidant compounds substantially higher than non-organic food – between 19% and 96%, according to a 2014 study by Newcastle University.

While taste and health are the main reasons people eat organic, animal welfare and caring for nature and the environment are also significant motivators. Organic food and sustainable agriculture benefit the environment. Organic farms are not only more energy efficient than standard farms, using little or no petroleum or chemical-based compounds, they also cause less pollution to lakes and rivers. Eating organic is as much an ideology as it is a health and lifestyle choice.

Perhaps organic eating and clean eating aren’t the right terms. Maybe it should be called mindful eating instead, because when you make the right food choices, you’re mindful of your body, health, wallet, and the future of the environment, all of which makes you slow down and savor what’s good. And it all starts with the right grocery list.