organic produceWhich Produce Should I Buy Organic?

In a perfect world, we would only eat organic foods free of pesticides and other chemicals. But here in the real world, an organic-only diet can induce major grocery bill woes. If you’ve purchased organic lately, you’ve likely experienced this sticker shock one too many times.

The price gap between organic and regular produce is reportedly closing, but not quickly enough. Organic eggs, for example, are still typically $2 to $3 more expensive per dozen than their cage-raised counterparts. At Amazon Fresh, organic meat, dairy and produce are nearly 60% more expensive overall than the same non-organic items.

Is the price of organic worth it? A large-scale study showed that organic food doesn’t have more nutrients than non-organic items. However, research does show that eating organic food can decrease your exposure to pesticides and other chemicals. And from a health and fitness perspective, that’s a big deal. Pesticides can prevent your body from repairing damaged DNA, which is linked to a higher rate of cancer, and in some cases can even lower your sperm count. When you’re ramping up your fitness routine, nutrition is a crucial part of the equation, and the fewer toxins you put in your body, the cleaner the machine. If you’re having particular health issues, going organic could help you get your body back on track.

Yes, eating organic does tend to decrease your exposure to food chemicals. But it also can cost you a pretty penny at the market. Here’s the silver lining: it’s more important to buy certain kinds of produce organic than others. The leading consumer group studying this, EWG, puts out two lists each year to help consumers determine which produce to buy organic and where to save the extra cost. Here’s a recap of their just-released 2018 report.

Produce you should always buy organic

organic strawberriesDubbed “The Dirty Dozen,” certain types of produce tend to have the highest amounts of pesticides. According to EWG’s 2018 research, this year’s Dirty Dozen contains numerous kitchen staples—some you might expect and others that might surprise you.

The next time you’re at the grocery store pondering organic vs. non-organic, keep these high on your “buy organic” list.

  1. Strawberries: One sample alone contained more than 20 different pesticides
  2. Spinach: 97% of non-organic spinach had pesticide residue
  3. Nectarines: It’s a similar story for these fruits, 94% of which contained pesticides
  4. Apples: Go for organic apples to avoid diphenylamine, a pesticide banned in Europe
  5. Grapes: Expect five different pesticides per non-organic bunch
  6. Peaches: 99% had detectable pesticide residue
  7. Cherries: 1 in 3 contained iprodione, banned in Europe for possible links to cancer
  8. Pears: Many pesticides in surprisingly high concentrations
  9. Tomatoes: Roughly 4 different pesticides per conventionally grown tomato
  10. Celery: In one sample, researchers found 13 pesticides
  11. Potatoes: More pesticide residue per weight than any other produce
  12. Bell peppers: Fewer pesticide residue overall, but the pesticides that were traceable were more toxic than on other produce

Also worth noting are hot peppers. These veggies didn’t make the actual list, but 75% of which contained pesticide residue in EWG’s 2018 research. 

Produce you can skip buying organic

But it’s not all bad news, because a number of the fruits or veggies you might be tempted to buy organic don’t contain as many pesticides as you would think. If you need to cut back on your grocery bill, then skip the organic sticker for these 15 items, which EWG calls “The Clean Fifteen.” If you love guac but gawk at the steep price of organic avocados, prepare to be very happy.

Not surprising, fruits and veggies that you peel tend to pose fewer pesticide risk, as the outside layer most exposed to chemicals is discarded, not eaten. But that’s not an absolute rule to live by, so keep this list with you as you’re assessing the items you can afford not buy organic.

  1. Avocados: Fewer than 1% contained pesticides
  2. Sweet corn: Less than 2% had detected pesticides, but remember to avoid genetically engineered corn
  3. Pineapples: 90% of pineapples were safe to eat despite being non-organic
  4. Cabbage: Only 2 of 700 cabbage samples had residue of more than one pesticide
  5. Onions: No sample contained more than three different pesticides
  6. Frozen sweet peas: 80% were virtually pesticide free
  7. Papayas: It’s the same for papaya, where only 2 in 10 contained pesticide residue
  8. Asparagus: 90% had no detectable pesticide residue
  9. Mangoes: No more than two pesticides were found on any non-organic mango tested
  10. Eggplants: 75% of tested non-organic eggplants contained no pesticide residue
  11. Honeydew melons: About half were pesticide free
  12. Kiwis: Only six different pesticides overall were found on the study’s non-organic kiwis
  13. Cantaloupes: More than 60% didn’t contain pesticide residue
  14. Cauliflower: About 50% of tested cauliflower contained no pesticide residue at all
  15. Broccoli: Only 1 in 10 broccoli samples had residue of more than one pesticide

The jury is still out on whether an “organic” label actually means the producer has more nutrients. However, if avoiding chemicals is a priority for your health routine, then consider buying only organic for the Dirty Dozen produce.

What about Michelob Ultra Pure Gold and other organic beers? Keep in mind that if you’re consuming something that’s not healthy to begin with—alcohol, for instance—organic alone isn’t enough to counter the negatives.

Cory is a veteran health industry writer and content creator. His work has been featured in major publications such as MyFitnessPal, Healthy Living, and Low Carb Fanatics. His health industry writing career spans over nearly two decades.

In his free time, Cory enjoys snowboarding, fictional writing, and online chess.