Ask Amelia Nutrition Tips

Your Organic Buying Guide

what to buy organic

Question: I get so confused about what I should buy organic and what is OK to buy regular.  What organic foods do YOU buy?

Answer: I’m glad you asked, because this can be really confusing.  Below is a list of the products I feel strongly about buying organic, and what products I’m less fussy about.  But first, let me say that if budget is of no concern: buy everything organic.  It can’t hurt, and it increases the odds that you’re getting a high quality food whose production causes the least harm to you, farm & factory workers, and the earth.


  1. Milk, yogurt, ice cream, butter, domestic cheese.  Conventional dairy production in the U.S. is just plain gross.  Cows are mistreated, fed the wrong kind of food (corn instead of grass), and spend a lot of time being sick, which means they’re given antibiotics that end up in your milk.  You avoid much of this by buying organic dairy.  If you can afford it, dairy from grass-fed cows is even better.  Read more about the benefits of grass-fed here.
  2. Meat of all kinds (including broth, bouillon, eggs, egg products).  Same reasons I listed for dairy.  I am just too grossed out by factory farms to feel comfortable buying conventional meat or eggs, and prefer that the animals I eat lead pleasurable lives up until slaughter.  Organic meat is definitely more expensive, so I compensate by eating meat less often and buying what’s on sale.
  3. The “dirty dozen” of produce.  This list tends to change, but in general it’s strawberries, domestic blueberries, peaches, nectarines, apples, cherries, grapes, celery, bell peppers, kale, spinach, and lettuce.  These are the fruits & veggies with the highest levels of pesticides, so if you don’t like eating chemicals, better to buy organic.  Honestly, I try to buy as much organic produce as I can find/afford.
  4. Coffee and tea.  For tea, it’s because I’m not about to slurp down hot water that’s soaked up chemicals from pesticide-laden leaves.  No way, Jose.  For coffee, it’s more about the workers being paid fair wages for their hard work on coffee farms in poor parts of the world.  Luckily there are many organic teas and coffees on the market, at prices similar to the conventional versions.
  5. Soymilk and other soy products.  Conventional soy products are likely to come from genetically modified (GM) soybeans.  And while the FDA is constantly trying to convince Americans that GM foods are safe, the rest of the developed world feels differently, so I’m not taking any chances.  I prefer my soymilk smoothies to be GMO-free.


  1. Produce from the farmer’s market. If I’m buying in-season fruits & veggies from the farmer’s market, I feel pretty good about it even if they’re not organic.  Many small farmers practice sustainable growing techniques, but can’t afford the expensive process of becoming “Certified Organic,” which takes years of paperwork and waiting.  Getting to know the farmers at your market is a great way to learn about their farming practices and establish trust, so you can be confident in the food you buy there.
  2. Food at restaurants and other people’s homes.  I don’t eat out very often, and when I do I love to eat at restaurants who serve local and organic foods.  But this is not always possible, so sometimes I just have to let it go.  For me, eating food is a joyful experience that I like to share with people I love, so when someone else picks the restaurant, or serves me factory farmed meat, I smile, accept it, and get on with enjoying their company.  You can only do so much.
  3. Imported cheeses.  This varies depending on the cheese and the origin, but many Italian, French, English, Irish, Greek, Australian, and New Zealand cheeses come from animals that happily chomp on grass and hay as they’re wandering around large plots of land.  Sustainable agriculture is mainstream in other countries (shocking I know), so I am less worried about these imported treats than I am about products from the good old U.S.A.
  4. Soft-serve frozen yogurt.  My favorite food on earth.  The best kind I’ve ever had is Straus Family Creamery’s, an organic brand with to-die-for ice cream and fro yo. (See if a restaurant in your area carries their soft-serve).  But they’re the exception; most frozen yogurt shops don’t have an organic option.  So this is another scenario when I have to let go and enjoy what I love.  I just try to do it in moderation, so that most of my dairy intake is organic.


Trader Joe’s: cheap organic produce, pasta & grains, bread, cereals, dried fruit, soups, oils, cereals, dairy, eggs, chicken, some beef, and turkeys around Thanksgiving.

Costco: cheap organic chicken, ground beef, lettuce, milk, soymilk, yogurt, canned tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, peanut butter, juice, coffee, green tea, flour, sugar, and spices.

Whole Foods: cheap organic wine, beer, tea, sodas, dairy, eggs, broth, beans, grains, bread, frozen produce, and not always cheap but worth it: a huge variety of organic & sustainably-raised meats.

Your farmer’s market: the best place to get tasty organic produce and other local goodies.

1 Comment

  • Bridget
    April 25, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Hi Meels,

    Just reading this article over again. What are your further recommendations for kiddos? I see everything is organic from crackers, pretzels, and pasta? Also, living in MA now I miss all my lovely year round farmers markets. I really appreciate this article bc I have to make more conscious decisions not having so much local produce. Thank you!

Leave a Reply