You’ve probably heard the buzz about organic food and seen the label popping up on everything from produce to that pizza. But most people still have doubts. As a physician, I’m constantly asked–by patients, friends, even professionals at conferences–“Is it really important to eat organic?” I always say yes, primarily because eating organic is simply healthier. Studies show that organic fruits and vegetables can have an average of 25 percent more nutrients than conventional produce. And eating organic meat limits your exposure to synthetic hormones that may pose risks to women in their childbearing years.

Of course, organic foods may not always be available or affordable; some cost an estimated 10 to 40 percent more–a steep price hike, especially in this economy. So how can you determine which are the most important foods to buy “green”? To answer that, I looked at the foods women eat most, then considered which ones are the worst offenders when grown or raised according to mainstream methods. Eating these five things organic will go a long way toward protecting your body, and will also make for fewer toxic chemicals in our air and water–and a generally healthier planet.

1. Dairy

Organic dairy can have a big impact on your health and the environment, but the truth is young women don’t drink a lot of milk. They do, however, still reach for yogurt. Like all organic dairy, organic yogurts are made without the use of hormones and antibiotics–two of the things women tell me they worry about most–and can have higher levels of omega-3s, the heart-healthy fats we Americans don’t get enough of, as well as beta-carotene, which may play a role in cancer prevention. I like varieties such as Horizon Organic and Stonyfield Farm, but any dairy product with the USDA Organic seal is probably a good choice. A food can’t carry the seal unless it’s made without toxic chemicals, antibiotics or synthetic hormones, and contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients. (“Hormone-free” dairy products are better than their conventional counterparts, but they may not have as many omega-3s as organics.)

Organic dairy can also be much less damaging to the environment. We’ve already started to see how, as millions of people have switched, farming practices have improved in a way that will help reduce greenhouse gases. That’s a good prescription for your health and the planet.

2. Lettuce

Conventional lettuce–especially imported salad greens–has some of the highest levels of pesticides in any food, according to data from the USDA. But that’s not the only reason it’s near the top of my list of organic foods for women. It’s number two because women also tend to eat salads far more often than men do, which means that pound for pound, you’re exposed to higher amounts of these chemicals.

Start your salad with an organic bed of greens, and if there’s another veggie you always throw in–whether that’s cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, peas, or imported broccoli and carrots (all high in pesticides that the Environmental Protection Agency considers toxic)–make that organic too. Washing produce is always a good idea, but don’t believe that necessarily eliminates all the possible health risks of pesticides; pesticide levels are measured after produce is scrubbed.

The health benefits here bear repeating: You’ll get as much as 25 percent more antioxidants compared with conventional produce–that’s like an extra serving of fruits and vegetables every day, a boost that we know could lower the risk of heart disease and some cancers.

What are three other delicious organic items? Click here to find out.

So maybe eating organic isn’t for you. But when you find out what’s in those TV dinners, you might change your mind….

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