Is Eating Organic Worth It? Part 2: Beyond Organic
Today’s blog post is a follow-up to my last post on whether eating organic is worth it or not. If you haven’t read part 1 yet, check it out to learn all about what organic food really is, common misconceptions about organic food, when it is important to buy organic, and when it’s totally not necessary.
In today’s post, we’ll discuss when eating organic isn’t always the healthiest option and how to choose the healthiest food possible without breaking the bank!
Beyond Organic: Meat, Poultry, Eggs, Dairy, and Fish
One might automatically assume that if something is labelled “organic” it’s the best option for your health. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with all food. When it comes to meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, and fish, the “organic” label may just be an excuse for the producer to charge more.
The truth is, you not only are what you eat, but you are what you eat eats. For animals, the healthiest food option is the food they are genetically designed to eat— which is not necessarily organic. For example, a company that produces beef products can charge a heck of a lot more for beef from cattle that are fed organic grains and other foods. These products would be labelled organic, but these cows can still have high levels of systemic inflammation, which get passed to us when we eat them.
Ideally, the beef we consume should come from cattle that graze on grass until the day they die. This type of beef is called grass-fed/grass-finished. Finding beef that’s grass-finished is important because grass-fed beef may be grain-finished, resulting in increased inflammation levels in the cow. Cows that only consume grass, like they’re meant to, give us beef that is higher in vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids (the anti-inflammatory essential fatty acid). Conventional beef products are lower in nutrients and contain more omega-6, which is inflammatory when we consume too much.
The same is true with all other meat products. Buying “organic” poultry and eggs isn’t enough; instead, look for “pasture-raised” on the package, which tells you that the chicken roamed free to eat bugs, grubs, and surrounding vegetation. If you really want to take it to the next level, purchase eggs and poultry from a farmer’s market where you can actually talk to the farmer and learn more about how the animals are treated and fed.
When it comes to fish, marketing can be very deceptive. Seeing “organic” on the label might, at first glance, make you think you’re buying a beautifully pure and healthy product, but upon consideration actually tells us that the fish was farmed. Otherwise, how could they guarantee it was organic? Instead, if you want to buy the most nutritionally-dense fish, look for wild fish only. This means that the fish was able to swim free and eat it’s natural diet (instead of organic corn and soy which is what your organic salmon fillets may have been fed.)
The Coffee Conundrum
Similarly to meat products, an “organic” bag of coffee beans is a tricky marketing ploy to get consumers to spend more. Listen, if your only option is a conventional bag of coffee versus organic coffee, I’d definitely go with the organic coffee. But if you’re concerned with buying the healthiest option, there are a few other things to look out for.
Coffee beans are notorious for being not only high in pesticides, but also dangerous molds called mycotoxins. When roasted for too long, coffee can also be carcinogenic. Another thing to keep in mind if you’re concerned with the overall quality of a product is the impact on the environment and individuals who work to bring you that amazing cup of joe every morning. Ideally, finding a light or medium-roasted coffee bean that is not only organic, but also fair-trade and tested for molds is your best, most healthful option.
I prefer brands like Kion and Bulletproof, but Bulletproof definitely takes the cake for the smoothest and least acidic cup of coffee I’ve ever had. Sadly, it’s almost double the cost of your typical organic, fair-trade coffee, but it’s worth it in my opinion. Coffee can honestly either make you feel like crap or actually give your body and brain a boost, and Bulletproof definitely does the latter!
OG Organic: Local Family Farms
Here’s something to ponder: getting that “USDA Organic” or “Canada Organic” stamp of approval on products is often too expensive for small family farms. So it would be silly to think that the bag of organic tomatoes from California is a healthier, more nutrient-dense option than a bag of tomatoes grown on a farm just outside your city, that isn’t labelled as organic but is actually grown under the same, if not better, conditions that farms need to be labelled organic.
This is the final piece of the organic food puzzle, remembering that local farms are almost always a better (and often cheaper) option than organic. So, if you have access to a farmer’s market near you, I’d highly encourage you to take advantage of it. Go and talk to the farmers who grow fruits and veggies you like. Ask them about their farming practises and whether they use any chemical pesticides or herbicides. A lot of the time, you’ll find that not only are they growing everything organically, they’re also taking care to make sure that their soil is as nutrient-dense as possible. Remember, for a lot of these small family farms, growing quality food is their passion, not just their job.
Eating Well Without Breaking the Bank
So, by this point, hopefully you have a pretty good idea of when you should buy organic produce, when it’s okay to buy conventional, and when you should go beyond organic. But if you’ve read up until this point and you’re thinking “Well that’s all fine and dandy, but what if I can’t afford all this fancy food?!” I feel you. Luckily, there are ways to choose the best food available without breaking the bank!
When it comes to the produce on the dirty dozen list (in Part 1 of this blog), buying fresh can take a serious toll on your wallet. Luckily, buying frozen and canned food can be just as healthy (if not more so in the case of frozen food) and a heck of a lot cheaper. Take frozen berries, for example. A small clamshell of organic strawberries at my local organic market is a whopping $9.99 as I’m writing this. However, I can purchase a giant bag of frozen organic strawberries six times the size of the clamshell for $16.99 at Costco! Sweet deal, am I right?! Did you know that frozen foods are picked and frozen at the peak of ripeness so they can actually be a lot more nutrient-dense than fresh foods? Especially if those fresh berries came all the way from New Mexico, losing a lot of nutrients on their long journey to get to you.
Of course, those fresh organic strawberries are so expensive right now because they aren’t quite in season yet. Buying fruits and veggies that are in season can be a great way to get a deal as well. As I write this, produce like apples, asparagus, cucumbers, peppers, beans, eggplant, herbs, potatoes, and rhubarb are in season, so those will be the items that I can likely find on sale or for a better price. To sweeten the deal even more, seasonal produce is even more nutritious because it’s naturally ripe and ready to be eaten right here, right now.
Speaking of sales, watching your local organic market and grocery store flyers for sales on organic produce is a great way to get a deal on typically costly items, like avocados, for example. Avocados are on the clean fifteen list, but are typically close to $2 each at my local Safeway. At my local Blush Lane Organic Market however, avocados are typically on sale for just 99 cents each! Every Sunday when I make my meal plan and shopping list for the week ahead, I always make a point to check out the flyers of the shops in my area.
Another fun way to save a bit of money with produce is to save the odds and ends, like carrot and beet tops, the outer layers of onions, celery hearts, etc., to use to make veggie stocks and soup bases. You can even save these veggie stems to sprout and grow your own at home! Replanting the base of lettuces are super simple and help save a bit of money. Growing your own herbs at home can also be a great way to save some cash and is a super fun project.
Finally, let’s talk about meat. Aside from good-quality coffee, good-quality meat and fish will easily be the most expensive things on your grocery list. Watching for sales in flyers and buying frozen can save you a bit of money, but the biggest money-saver is buying odd cuts of meat. Everyone wants the boneless, skinless chicken breast, so that’s the most expensive cut off the chicken. Funnily enough, chicken breast is the least nutrient dense cut of chicken you can buy! Bone-in, skin-on cuts like thighs, drumsticks, and whole chickens, are usually a way better bang for your buck- not only financially but nutritionally as well. If you want to be really adventurous, you can buy chicken feet to make the most collagen-rich and tasty bone broth ever for basically pennies! Beef, chicken, and lamb livers are usually really cheap as well, you just need to know how to cook it (and of course, you need to be able to stomach the strong iron-taste). Liver also happens to be the most nutrient-dense food on the planet.
If buying “unusual” cuts of meat isn’t your thing, reframing your idea of portion sizes works as well. Thinking of meat as a “condi-meat” as Dr. Mark Hyman says, using it more as a condiment instead of the main portion of your plate is a great way to save money as well. Eating only a few ounces with dinner and getting the bulk of your protein from plant-based foods like lentils, peas, and beans, is an amazing way to save money while still getting adequate amounts of protein.
My final tip to save some money without compromising on quality is buying bulk. A lot of the time we think we’re saving money by buying the jumbo size bag of ground flaxseeds at Costco, but we really end up throwing a lot out a year later when we realize it’s passed the expiry date and they’ve gone rancid. Instead, I like to buy small amounts of items that easily go rancid like nuts, seeds, and certain oils in bulk, which is cheaper and saves me from having to throw out whatever didn’t get consumed before going bad.
All this writing about food is making me hungry! I hope you found this series informative and you have a better grasp of which items you should be splurging on versus which ones you can spend less on, without compromising quality. If you have any thoughts, comments, or questions, as always I would love to hear them so let me know below!