Buying organic food is a healthy choice, but it’s not always feasible. 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.
So how do you know what foods to buy organic? Fortunately, we don’t have pore through test reports to figure all this out because the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has done the work for us. Their ever-changing “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists 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.
Bell & Hot Peppers
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 Dirty Dozen Produce
You should try to buy organic produce for these recipes.
Recipes That Include Clean 15 Produce
You can purchase conventional produce for these recipes and possibly save some money over organic.
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
92 thoughts on “What to Buy Organic”
Thank you Lisa!!!! So disappointed in the cruel, selfish and greedy things mankind views as acceptable!
I will be buying as much organic foods as possible to cut down injesting pesticides. You betcha!
Thanks Lisa for all your hard work to change the way Americans eat and live a longer, healthier life.
‘Organic’ and “non-GMO’ are fear-based marketing schemes, designed to induce the consumer to purchase the food the marketing folks want you to eat. There is no science-based concern about the nutrition or pesticide levels in any food in Canada or the USA. GMO food is 100% safe. If you think not, just investigate and you’ll discover the truth (if you care to know the truth).
Example to read:
Really?! You don’t think there’s a connection between the heavily sprayed GMO crops and the state of our gut? The hybridization of wheat and genetic modification of other crops is destroying the good bacteria in our digestive systems. These. crops are HEAVILY sprayed with glyphosate. This chemical inhibits our detoxification pathyways; inhibits the absorption of minerals; and it inhibits the activation of Vit. D which is the vitamin that is the gene connector that affects our brain.. Glyphosate has been proven to destroy microorganisms in soil and it acts as an antibiotic in our body. Our entire microbiome, which is 80% of our immune system, is adversely affected. We have to change our food supply and go back to traditional farming. Food is information to our body–it signals our DNA. We are at the point now where our bodies don’t know how to handle what they’re being given. Read “Grain Brain” by David Perlmutter, M.D.
I guess you need to watch the documentary on The Big Secret.
Many large organic farms use pesticides liberally. They’re organic by certification, but you’d never know it if you saw their farming practices. As Michael Pollan, best-selling book author and organic supporter, said in an interview with Organic Gardening,
One would only know if the food is organic if you actually grow them yourself. Otherwise,there are plenty of lies being told.
It is impossible to avoid chemicals or we wouldn’t exist! Also you are misleading people when you say that organic means no pesticides are sprayed. In fact many organic crops are sprayed with organic pesticides. This is not better or worse just a different farming method. All pesticides are tested and must meet safety regulations. It is the dose and form that are important. For example extremely high rates of organic manure can be detrimental. farmers – organic and conventional- work carefully to use the right rates and farming practices to provide healthy, safe food in a sustainable way. Also it does frustrate me when people want to avoid genetically modified food that uses a very precise science to alter or insert a gene yet have no problem eating an organic food that may have been developed or altered using mutagenesis- which can occur naturally or the result of a mutagen such as irridation. Yes let’s eat healthy but also get educated so your decisions are based on fact not someone like food babe who Uses fear mo gearing to drive her own agenda!
I do not see reply to Sara April 4, 2015 @ 3:50PM
Hi Diane. She wasn’t asking a question but rather making a statement to express her opinion.
Hi. Are you referring to the whole wheat loaf? It is about 2lbs.
what size loaf does this make?
Hi, Are the dirty dozen and GMO lists likely to apply in countries outside the USA?
Hi Paula. No, it does not apply to other countries. ~Amy
Seeing Citric Acid listed in Common ingredients derived from GMO risk list makes me think about the tins of Chopped tomatoes I buy. Other than the tomatoes it’s the only other ingredient. Does this mean they are not advised?? Don’t know where else (in UK) I could buy them just as they are with out Citric Acid.
Hi Andrea. Look for one that is both organic and certified non-GMO:http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/gmos-and-your-family/. ~Amy
Hi and thank you. Unfortunately here in UK GNP listed foods I have never seen. Not a common occurrence here yet. I will ensure to buy organic at least. Many thanks.
This may sound like a ridiculous question, but if I don’t know, I must ask! When buying corn and summer squash/zucchini, in what form do I need to buy those organic because of GMO’s? It is just when buying them frozen or canned, or does this apply to fresh corn and zucchini/squash? I was just thinking about this the other day, with all of the information on Monsanto and their use of GMO’s, especially with corn. The use of the word “crop” makes me think I do need to buy organic for these fresh items, but I could be wrong.
We generally grow our own zucchini, but corn is another story. I like to buy the fresh stocks in the summer and cut them off the cobb and freeze. Thanks for any information you are able to provide.
Hi Amy. Not ridiculous at all…this will help: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2013/10/16/avoid-gmos-go-organic/. :) ~Amy
Hi Rebecca. Here are some links that can help answer your question: http://ofrf.org/organic-faqs and http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/30/science/30farm.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. If you Google “organic farming pest control methods”, you will find much more including videos that explain organic/ecologically balanced methods for farming. ~Amy