Insiders’ Guide to Organic

With more organic options than ever before showing up in grocery aisles, many shoppers are faced with questions: Is choosing organic always best? Is it worth the extra cost? What exactly separates organic produce from conventionally grown food? V-lish asked these questions and more to Deirdre Imus, president and founder of the Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center®. Deirdre’s insider tips will help you make the best choices possible next time you shop- for your health, and for the planet!


V-lish: What are the dangers posed by eating foods that have been sprayed with pesticides?

Deirdre Imus: How much time do you have? Pesticide use in farming is rampant; its effects are long-lasting and wide-reaching. Our many chemical exposures – beginning in the womb – stay with us throughout our lives, according to the Pesticide Action Network North America. We encounter pesticides not only when we eat fruits and vegetables that have been sprayed with these chemicals, but also in the air, water, and soil that has been consequently contaminated. As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announces on its website, pesticides can affect the nervous system (aka, your brain and spinal cord); irritate the skin and eyes; and tamper with the body’s endocrine system, which is in charge of hormone regulation. Pesticides are also linked to cancer: the National Cancer Institute notes that agricultural workers commonly exposed to pesticides have higher rates of leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and cancers of the skin, stomach, and brain. Of course, eating foods treated with pesticides is especially risky for children. Studies have found that children whose mothers were exposed to pesticides during pregnancy might be at an increased risk for autism spectrum disorders. Pound for pound, kids eat more food, breathe more air, and drink more water than adults. Their developing bodies are still maturing, and according to the EPA, pesticides may block the absorption of important food nutrients necessary for normal, healthy growth.


V-lish: What should we put on our grocery shopping lists to be sure we’re avoiding harmful pesticides in our food?

Deirdre Imus: Organically grown fruits and vegetables are almost always a safe bet.  To be extra cautious, find out where your local supermarket buys its produce, and do some research on that farm or distributor. You want to make sure cross-contamination with pesticide-ridden produce does not occur, and that farms are being truthful about organic claims. Also, be wary of organic labels.  To bear a label reading “made with organic ingredients,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture only requires a food be 70 percent organic. The only assurance you’re getting a totally organic product is the “100% organic” labeling of the USDA’s Organic Seal.


V-lish: Organic can be expensive. Any tips on eating clean while on a budget?

Deirdre Imus: While organic produce is always preferred, it is also usually more expensive than its conventionally grown counterparts. One way to keep costs down is to buy organic vegetables when they’re in season, which varies depending on where you live. Buying asparagus in the Northeast in the fall is going to cost a heck of a lot more than it does in the spring, when asparagus is grown at nearby farms. Another way to save is to try to buy organic only for the “dirtiest” fruits and vegetables, by which I mean those that require more pesticides to be grown conventionally. Each year the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases its Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, also known as the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. Apples, strawberries, and celery tend to retain more pesticide residue than cabbage, avocado, and onions. If you’re on a budget, buy organic for the dirtier items and conventional for the clean ones.


V-lish: Toxic ingredients can be found in things other than food- like cosmetics and house-hold cleaners. How can we as consumers choose the greenest, healthiest products possible?

Deirdre Imus: Chemicals are rampant in personal care products and household cleaners. Selecting an item that simply contains the word “green” will get you nowhere, because there is no regulation over which manufacturers can use that word.  As with food, read labels. When it comes to cleaning products, look for naturally derived, plant-based ingredients like essential oils. Steer clear of anything containing dyes and artificial fragrances. One of the best all-purpose cleaners out there is distilled white vinegar. Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle and you’re ready to go!

Personal care products run the gamut from sunscreen to mouthwash to hair dye. For safer cosmetic use, check out EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. It’s a great resource to look up a particular product you’re concerned about. There are so many ingredients you want to try to avoid – artificial fragrances, parabens, triclosan, petroleum – that it can feel overwhelming. Take it one product at a time, and don’t be surprised if you breathe easier, or that persistent redness in your eyes suddenly disappears.


About Deirdre Imus

Deirdre Imus HeadshotDeirdre Imus, Founder of the site devoted to environmental health,, is President and Founder of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center® at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder/Co-Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. She is a New York Times best-selling author and a frequent contributor to, and Fox Business Channel. In her quest to clean up the environment for our kids, Deirdre developed the award-winning Greening The Cleaning® program and product line, which replaces the hazardous ingredients commonly found in cleaning agents with environmentally-responsible, less toxic products wherever possible.  The program and products are used throughout the country in schools, healthcare facilities, and businesses. Deirdre has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors for her impact as a leader in the field of environmental health, and for raising awareness about childhood chronic illnesses that are in epidemic proportions like autism, asthma, and obesity.  Deirdre serves on the boards of several children’s health organizations, including the National Autism Association, Safe Minds, Generation Rescue, SKIP of New York, East Harlem Council for Human Services, Inc., Boriken Neighborhood Health Center and Gilda’s Club-Northern NJ