It may not always be feasible (or you may simply not want) to buy everything organic. In some cases, your local grocery stores may not carry organic options, or maybe you just can’t stomach the cost of organic produce.
But did you know that some produce selections contain way more pesticide residue than others, and that this varies from year to year? For example, the last EWG analysis found that 60% of kale sold in the US was contaminated with the pesticide Dacthal/DCPA, which the European Union banned in 2009 and the EPA classifies as a possible human carcinogen. Yikes!
Because of this—and the fact that organic produce is not treated with synthetic pesticides—it makes sense to pay a little extra for organic kale when possible. On the other hand, we almost always buy conventional avocados to save money, knowing there is little risk of pesticide contamination.
But who wants to pore through test reports to figure all this out?? Fortunately, we don’t have to because the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has done the work for us. Their ever-changing “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists from make the difficult decision of “What to buy organic?” so much easier!
Why Buy Organic
Nearly 70% of the produce sold in the U.S. comes with pesticide residues, and these tests are done even after they had been washed and peeled just as you would prepare them at home.
It should be pretty clear why consuming these foods with high levels of pesticides is important, but if you still need some convincing, one French study showed that those with the highest frequency of organic food consumption had 25% fewer cancers than individuals who did not eat organic food1. That’s enough for me to make sure I feed my family organic when possible.
While we know it’s not always possible to avoid conventional produce, the Dirty Dozen List shows you the fruits and veggies that had the most residual pesticides. These are the items we should try to buy organic when we can, and not just in the produce aisle. For example, apples are in the top 5 on this list, so I try to purchase organic applesauce and juice, as well.
Foods You Should Buy Organic
I’ve said this before, but I feel that it deserves to be said again … if you can’t buy organic, eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating any fruits or vegetables at all.
With that said, this is the list of produce that should be bought organic when possible. The Dirty Dozen List was put together by the EWG with data that was found by the USDA and FDA tests that show produce with the most detected pesticide residues. I like to stock up on the frozen organic bags of most of these, which makes it cheaper and more convenient.
Recipes That Include Dirty Dozen Produce
- Strawberry and Kale Smoothie Bowl
- Creamy Kale Ceasar Salad
- Sheet Pan Apple Pie (with a whole-wheat crust)
- Pork and Peach Kabobs with a Teriyaki Glaze
- Cobb Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing
- Easy Couscous Stuffed Tomatoes
- Potato Skins
Foods You Don’t Need to Buy Organic
Now that you know which foods you should buy organic, what about those that you don’t necessarily need to? The EWG’s Clean 15 is a list of the top produce that contains few to no detected pesticide residues. Good thing most of my favorites are on this list!
Sweet peas (frozen)
Recipes That Include Clean 15 Produce
- Blackened Fish Salad with a Creamy Avocado Dressing
- Mexican Street Corn
- Slow Cooker Pineapple Pork Tacos
- Eggplant with Corn and Feta
- Braised Asparagus
- Roasted Cauliflower Pasta
- Charred Broccoli with Honey Mustard
- Chicken and Wild Mushroom Skillet
- Braised Asian Meatballs and Cabbage
It’s important to note that both of these lists, The Dirty Dozen and Clean 15, change every year, so bookmark this page and check back regularly for updates based on new test findings. These lists can really help simplify your decision-making at the grocery store. But it’s also important to remember that it’s better to consume conventional fruits and veggies as opposed to none at all!
1.J. Baudry et al., Association of Frequency of Organic Food Consumption with Cancer Risk. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2018; 178(12):1597-1606. DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.4357. Available at https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2707948