Organic Panic: When to Worry About the Standards of the Food You Buy

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 8.22.24 AMWith Memorial Day around the corner, many folks start looking to get their wayward diets in line before summer enters full swing. Even if you’re familiar with Paleo or Zone styles of eating, one perennial question that vexes most grocery shoppers these days is this: How important is it to buy organic? It’s a fair question, largely because there’s no clear answer.

First of all, let’s put the question of organic buying into proper proportion. How “clean” are you eating already? Does your diet include sufficient protein to sustain muscle mass, and are you consuming the proper nutrients to maintain efficient body function? Furthermore, are you eating whole, unprocessed foods, or does your diet contain packaged, processed items with an expiration date sometime in the next decade?

It’s important to ask these questions because they are far more important to your health than whether something is organic. Non-organic broccoli is going to serve you much better than that organic Ding-Dong (do they even make those?). So before you start worrying about organic, first look at whether¬†your diet mostly consists of lean meats, vegetables, some fruits, and healthy fats such as nuts, seeds and some oils. If this is how you eat, you’re already far ahead of most.

Only after your dietary habits are in line should you worry about the issue of buying organic. The truth is that buying everything organic all the time is not only difficult but expensive. You need to look at your budget and prioritize accordingly.

For fruits and vegetables, try to buy organic when you’ll eat the skin of the food (apples, lettuce, tomatoes). But don’t worry as much with foods that you peel (bananas, oranges, avocados). Farmers markets are often a great place to find organic produce at a reasonable price. There are regular farmers markets all over the city.

As for dairy and eggs, it depends on how much you eat of these items. Some research suggests that if you buy milk with fat, it’s worth the extra money to buy not just organic, but milk from grass-fed cattle. That’s because research¬†has found that organic milk has 25% less omega-6 fatty acids (considered bad) and 62% more omega-3 fatty acids (considered good). Not all grocery stores may offer this. Organic, free-range eggs are great, and you can buy them by the dozen at the gym. They might be a bit more expensive than regular eggs, but they still remain one of the cheapest, most versatile protein sources around.

Meats and seafood get even more expensive. When you can afford proteins that are free range and pasture-raised or grass-fed, go for it. Not only will this meat likely contain fewer toxins or hormones, but it’s a better ethical choice if you care about animal welfare. Look for coupons and sales at your local stores. Having said that, if every cow you put in your mouth wasn’t massaged by day and read bedtimes stories at night, don’t stress about it too much. Instead, worry more about getting a proper balance of good proteins, carbs and fats in your diet.

Most of all, if you’re worried about getting in shape for summer, ease up on the booze and cut out the sugar, folks. Organic or not.