Should I Buy Organic?

It’s been a while since I had a vegan post in my blog and since I went camping this week and really have no triathlon-related updates, it seems like a great time to talk nutrition! And yes, I had all-vegan camp food during my recent trip into the wild. This post won’t be about vegan camp food (but I will do one soon, I promise) but about organic food, a question that comes up a lot and came up from a fellow camper this week.

What is Organic?

In 1990, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) which required the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop standards on how food is produced, processed, and certified to be called organic. Organic food are those produced by methods free of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, industrial solvents, chemical food additives, irradiation, antibiotics, or genetic modification, on farms or operations certified by a USDA accredited agents. Farms must show they have been free of prohibited chemicals for at least three years, keep organic food separate from non-organic foods, and submit to periodic site inspections.

Food Labeling

Organic food labeling can be confusing, to say the least. So what do all these labels mean? 

100% Organic

  • Must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients and processing aids.


  • Must consist of at least 95 percent organically-produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Any remaining product ingredients must consist of non-agricultural substances approved on the National List including specific non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form.

Ok, those are the only two categories of organic foods that can sport the USDA’s Organic seal (shown above as my blog art). But what about all those other labels we see on food?

Made with Organic Ingredients

  • Must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients and list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel. These products must contain ingredients that are certified organic, however, the product cannot display the USDA Organic seal anywhere on the package.

What about the other food labels we commonly see…?

Free Range

  • A chicken who was given access to the outside for as little as five minutes a day, not that it actually went, but that there was a single door in the side of the barn big enough for a chicken to get out if it could get to it. No limitations on hormone or antibiotic additives in feed.

Sustainably Harvested

  • Is a marketing gimmick. There is no description or certification or legislation that set parameters on what this means.


  •  A term regulated only for meats and poultry, contains no artificial flavors, colors, or chemical preservatives. Otherwise meaningless.

Made with Whole Grains

  • Meaningless marketing gimmick. Other than somewhere in the nutritional contents is at least one ingredient that is whole grain, does not have to be the primary ingredient at all.


  • An important label (in my book) that indicates that no Genetically Modified Organic (GMO) products were used. GMO products are generally soybean, corn, or wheat that were genetically altered as not to be killed by Roundup herbicide spray, thus allowing farmers to liberally spray fields with Roundup to kill weeds while not killing the crop.

Which Fruits and Vegetables Should You Buy Organic?

Organically grown fruits and vegetables are admittedly more expensive than their non-organic counterparts. Do you HAVE to buy all organic or are some more important than others? The quick answer, if you’re going to eat the peel, then yes, organic is best. If you’re not eating the peel, such as an avocado, banana, orange, etc., then you can get by with the non-organic version. However, there is a “dirty dozen” list of fruits and vegetables from the Environmental Working Group that they suggest you SHOULD buy organic:

Twelve Fruits and Vegetables You Should Buy Organic

  • Nectarines – 97.3% of nectarines sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Celery – 94.5% of celery sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Pears – 94.4% of pears sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Peaches – 93.7% of peaches sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Apples – 91% of apples sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Cherries – 91% of cherries sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Strawberries – 90% of strawberries sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Imported Grapes – 86% of imported grapes (i.e. Chile) sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Spinach – 83.4% of spinach sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Potatoes – 79.3% of potatoes sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Bell Peppers – 68% of bell peppers sampled were found to contain pesticides.
  • Red Raspberries – 59% of red raspberries sampled were found to contain pesticides.
The pesticide levels of these 12 fruits and vegetables are low to undetectable; okay to buy conventional: Asparagus, Avocados, Bananas, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kiwi, Mangoes, Onions, Papaya, Pineapples, Sweet corn, Sweet peas.
I hope this helps! It is confusing, was confusing for me and I have to refer to my list all the time. In general, any fruit or vegetable I am going to use in its entirety (peel and all), especially in juicing, I use organic. I juice lemons whole, so I spend the extra cash for organic lemons, I figure I’m worth it!

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