Rhonda’s Cooking


Organic, Natural, and Local Foods…I’m Confused!

Posted by rhondascooking on May 6, 2008

USDA Organic LogoGrocery shopping has become more of a task; there are so many choices when purchasing foods. Not only are you trying to decide between a Gala apple and Fuji apple, but also you have to decide whether to choose an apple that is organic, natural/conventional or locally produced. What’s the difference—after all, don’t these foods all look the same? 


Well, the major differences between these classifications are the fact that organic foods are produced without the use of conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. On the other hand, natural and local foods sometimes may or may not be produced using pesticides, but in order to distinguish, you must carefully read the ingredients label or research the manufacturer.  Amongst the three, organic foods are the best foods to purchase for a number of reasons.  As a matter of fact, according to a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, pesticides might cause an extra 4 million cancer cases among Americans.1 Furthermore, in 1993 the NAS also concluded in another report that infants and children are at a greater risk from pesticide residues and environmental chemicals.2  


There is no way to visually determine whether or not the produce is safe from pesticides other than selecting items with the official organic logo.  Be prepared, however, to spend a little more on the organic foods.  If you are not able to purchase all organic foods, then try to purchase produce that have the lowest exposure risk to pesticides in organic.   How would you know what those are?  The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect the public health and the environment, studied 44 different types of foods between 2000 and 2004 to understand the impact of pesticide on the food. The following is a list of the top 12 most contaminated produce3:

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Lettuce
  • Grapes (imported)
  • Pears
  • Spinach
  • Potatoes

 The top 12 least contaminated produce are:

  • Onions
  • Avocado
  • Sweet Corn (frozen)
  • Pineapples
  • Mango
  • Sweet Peas (frozen)
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi
  • Bananas
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Eggplant

 I truly understand that there will be cases that you may not be able to purchase organic produce, so in that situation all is not lost.  Just simply purchase a natural vegetable wash which can be found at your local grocery store or Wal-Mart.


1Lipson, Elaine Marie.  “Kids and Pesticides Organic Foods Can Make a Difference.” IMPAKT Health, 2004. 

2 “Top 10 Reasons To Buy Organic.”  Santa Clara, CA: California Certified Organic Farmers.

3 “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.” Environmental Working Group 2006. May 5, 2008 <http://www.foodnews.org/>.




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