Going organic, part two

By: Alison Dunn Mar 23, 2011

When it comes to dairy, meat and packaged foods, is organic really the way to go?

(To learn more about choosing organic produce, be sure to check out “Going organic, part one” right here on Health Local.)

When moving to an organic lifestyle, choosing between organic and conventional foods can often be confusing. And while there are organizations like the U.S. Environmental Working Group (EWG) to help you choose organic produce, what about other foods like dairy, meats and grains?

For starters, says Laurie Burrows, a registered holistic nutritionist in Oakville and Burlington, Ont., you need to determine your end goal. “A person who is living the organic philosophy may buy everything organic because they know the farming practices are more sustainable,” she says. “Organic living and buying is really a philosophy of life.”

But if you’re on a limited budget, she adds, not every single food you buy has to be organic. Here is her advice on which items to choose organic:

Dairy: When it comes to dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt, how important is it to buy organic? Burrows recommends you choose organic or antibiotic-free dairy whenever possible, particularly if you or your family consumes a lot of dairy.

Meat: When it comes to meat, it can be tough to find any that is “certified” organic. That’s because it can cost a farm upwards of $3 million to become certified – and many farms are unwilling to do so because it would further increase the cost of the meat. What's more, the term "organic" only refers to what the animal has consumed - not how it was raised. Burrows recommends looking for grass-fed and naturally-raised beef (without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones), wild game or free range, pastured chicken instead of buying meat from a conventional butcher. Try sourcing a local farm or buying in bulk to keep costs low.

Cereals, grains and packaged goods: For starters, Burrows recommends avoiding most packaged foods as many – organic or not – are filled with added preservatives. She says a diet that uses fresh, whole foods is the best way to achieve good health, and recommends you avoid packaged foods when possible. However, if you’re looking for pasta, rice, oatmeal or other grains, she says it’s really a matter of your preference and budget as to whether or not you go organic.

In the end, Burrows’ advice is pretty simple – if there’s something you eat or drink frequently, it’s best to buy organic whenever possible. Of course, it’s also important to remember that just because something says it’s organic, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

“Some packaged foods, like organic cereal, have an abundance of things I would never want people to put in their bodies,” Burrows says. Many of these foods have an excess of sugars, corn and soy, she adds, which are things you should avoid whether they’re organic or not.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.