#901 Know What Fruits And Vegetables To Buy Organic

30 Apr

organic strawberries and grapesOrganic fruits and vegetables can cost twice as much or more than conventional fruits and vegetables. Buying organic can throw your grocery budget off every month if you don’t organize your shopping to focus on the most important produce to buy organic. There are lots of fruits and vegetables that you can skip buying organic, and some that are no-brainers to buy organic. The best way to organize your organic shopping is to use the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists. The lists take the data from pesticide tests run by the US Department of Agriculture and the federal Food and Drug Administration to rank fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues from high to low. High pesticide residue equals “dirty,” and low pesticide residue equals “clean.” Focus your organic shopping on the “dirty” fruits and vegetables to reduce your chemical exposure and live a healthier life. I do most of my shopping at a regular grocery store, where organic selections are often limited but getting better. At health food stores or places like Whole Foods, organic is easier to find, but more expensive. Look into buying bulk to save money through a local coop or health food store for the dirtiest fruits and vegetables.

Here are the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, which change every year based on yearly pesticide data, and some tips and alternatives. The EWG’s ratings are based on how people would normally eat the fruits or vegetables, so washing doesn’t make a difference. Not washing before eating actually means there are more chemicals than the ratings suggest.

These are the 2013 “dirty” fruits and vegetables you should make an effort to buy organic when available and the budget allows:

organic apples

Organic apples aren’t as big or pretty but they’re much safer to eat to reduce pesticide exposure.

#1 Apples. Number one on the list – EEK! I don’t find many organic apples available for purchase in the grocery store. You’re better off buying organic apples locally when apples are in season. My mom used to buy organic apples in bulk from the health food store to save money and get organic. Apples, if stored properly, can be kept fresh for a long time. The best thing for non-organic apples is to wash, peel and core as the pesticides reside in the peel and in the stem/core area in the highest concentrations. I usually only use apples for purposes that require peeling and coring. If you can’t find organic apples, go with another, lower pesticide fruit for snacking or use apples for pies where peeling and coring is a given. Apples are on the “dirty” list year after year.

#2 Celery. Organic celery really doesn’t cost much more than conventional celery so it’s worth the extra $1 for the organic version as it’s number 2 on the “dirty” list. It’s easy to find an organic celery option in the grocery store.

organic tomatoes #3 Cherry tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes are separate from tomatoes, which are an in-between fruit (neither dirty or clean). You can make your own judgement call on the in-between fruits. Organic tomatoes are easy to find and don’t cost much more than conventional tomatoes. Tomatoes are also incredibly easy to grow yourself. I like to get plants that are already started by the green house for you. Tomatoes don’t need much space, just a lot of sun, so any apartment with a sunny, outdoor spot has potential for tomato growing. If you take good care of them, they’ll produce like crazy August through September. Tomatoes are best in season anyways, so avoid out-of-season tomatoes. Tomatoes from hot houses are likely to have fewer pesticides because the environment is better controlled.

#4 Cucumbers. Another super easy crop to grow yourself, although they need more space than tomatoes. If you’ve ever known anyone who’s grown cucumbers, you know they’re always trying to foist their bountiful harvest on anyone who will accept a bag of cucumbers. You don’t need more than a few plants for lots of yield. Alternatively, organic cucumbers are a grocery store staple and not hugely more expensive than conventional cucumbers.

#5 Grapes. Grapes are always too hard and sour or one their way out when I test them in the store. Buying in season is best, as it’s the imported varieties for year-round consumption that are the worst pesticide offenders. Local grapes are safer. It’s hard to find organic grapes in stores.

#6 Hot peppers. If you’re growing some tomatoes, why not have a hot pepper plant too? They take up little space and are just as easy to grow yourself as tomatoes. They can be dried for out-of-season use. I don’t see too many organic hot pepper varieties in the grocery store.

#7 Nectarines (imported). Imported varieties of nectarines, like imported varieties of grapes, have higher pesticide concentrations. Buy local or organic. Sweet fruits are not only loved by humans, but also ants and other insects, so pesticides ensure the fruit is blemish-free, bug-free and perfect, but the thin-skinned fruit absorbs the chemicals easily into the flesh. I’ve never seen organic nectarines available where I live for purchase in the grocery store.

#8 Peaches. Another sweet fruit beloved by bugs, peaches are not much better than nectarines. If you can’t find organic, only buy in-season and limit your intake. Like nectarines, organic peaches for sale in the grocery store are scarce.

potatoes#9 Potatoes. What passes for a potatoes these days is sad. There are so many varieties, colors, tastes and textures to potatoes that reducing the plant to a bland, white version should be a crime. Potatoes have such variety that Peruvians can have a complete diet covering all needed nutrients from potatoes alone. It’s something like close to 4,000 varieties of potatoes grow in Peru. Potatoes also get a lot of pesticides and fungicides doused on them. If you have outdoor space, growing your own potatoes is satisfying and can open a whole world of varieties. I like to buy local for organic potatoes. The taste difference is mind blowing. I live in a state that is a proud producer of potatoes, so organic options are easy to come by and worth the little extra money. The mealy, white non-organic potatoes aren’t worth buying anyways. It’s a pity to peel a potato to try to reduce pesticide exposure as most of the nutrients are in the peel.

#10 Spinach. Spinach is quick-growing and packed with nutrients. Get organic greens when you can, or grow your own in a window box or garden if you have space.

organic strawberries

Organic strawberries taste a lot better.

#11 Strawberries. I’ve got to admit, organic strawberries are one of the most expensive organic produce items to buy relative to the conventional price. Organic strawberries are often twice as expensive. But don’t let the price stop you. I find non-organic strawberries to taste chemically, not like strawberries at all or worse, tasteless. Unlike conventional strawberries, organic strawberries are tasty. The huge difference in taste is enough to make me buy organic. The fact that strawberries are a “dirty” fruit is more convincing evidence to buy organic. Make strawberries a luxury, in-season purchase for minimal impact on the budget.

#12 Sweet bell peppers. I’ve got to say there is a taste difference in organic sweet bell peppers as well. Organic versions of sweet bell peppers taste better to me than conventional versions. I’ve made it a habit to buy organic sweet bell peppers, which are easily available in the grocery store.

#13 Kale/collard greens. So there are so many contaminated fruits and vegetables the EWG decided to add two bonus “dirty” vegetables. Greens in general should be bought organic or grown yourself.

#14 Summer squash. The second “bonus” vegetable on the dirty list is another bumper crop plant that has gardeners’ everywhere looking for willing takers for end-of-summer bounty. Eat them in-season from your neighbor’s garden if he didn’t use pesticides or chemical fertilizers. If you have enough space, the plants are huge, but generally yield a lot of produce.

Now for the “clean” fruits and vegetables as advised by the EWG. You can skip buying these organic if you want to save money on your grocery bill.


Photo via flickr by chidorian.

#1 Asparagus. Asparagus is in season right now, so it’s great to be able to buy conventional asparagus with little worry. Asparagus tends to be more expensive than other vegetables so any savings in cost is welcome.

#2 Avocados. Pretty much anything that grows high in a tree with a thick peel is pretty safe and has low pesticide use. I go organic if the conventional ones are rock hard, and the organic ones are nicely ripe at purchase. But there’s no need to spend the extra money on organic avocados.

#3 Cabbage. Cabbage seems to have a generational and cultural divide. It’s most often thought of as poor people’s food. It’s cheap and packed with nutrients, so if you’re not eating cabbage, you should. And best of all, it’s clean, so non-organic will be even friendlier on the budget. I feel weird being a young person who buys cabbage, but it’s delicious with pork and can be a great leftover item to have at breakfast or lunch.

#4 Cantaloupe. As a fruit with a thick rind, cantaloupe passes the test for low pesticide residue. Cantaloupe is best during the summer months.

#5 Sweet corn. Corn makes the “clean” list, so add it into summer barbecues at bargain prices.


Photo via flickr by graibeard.

#6 Eggplant. I used to hate eggplant. If you know how to cook it, it’s amazing. Even if it’s not on your regular grocery list, conventional eggplants are relatively free of pesticides.

#7 Grapefruit. Thick rind, grows high in a tree. Clean. Check.

#8 Kiwi. This fuzzy fruit native to New Zealand is also a clean fruit. Nice.

#9 Mango. Holy crap, mangoes are good when they’re ripe. They apply to the thick peel, high tree rule of clean fruits.

#10 Mushrooms. This one is good to keep in mind because I’m always tempted to get the more expensive, organic mushrooms. Mushrooms are in fact quite free of pesticides.

#11 Onions. The biggest challenge with onions are finding ones that aren’t too old when you buy them. The stinkier the onion smell when you chop, the older the onion. Softness and the middle growing a green shoot are also indications of a well-aged onion, which is not ideal for cooking. All those problems aside, you don’t have to worry about buying organic.

#12 Papaya. I hardly ever eat papaya, maybe I should. The whole tree/rind rule is also applicable to papayas.


Photo via flickr by ECohen.

#13 Pineapple. I love pineapples. They’re best to buy on sale when they’re the cheapest and ripest. No need to go organic with pineapples.

#14 Sweet peas (frozen). What about fresh? Fresh are an “in-between” vegetable. The season for fresh peas is so short, frozen is the way to go most of the year anyways.

#15 Sweet potatoes. There has been a huge rise in sweet potatoes consumption over the past few years. It’s nice to know that unlike potatoes, sweet potatoes are clean.

What about all the in-between fruits and vegetables? The EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen are only for the “dirtiest” and “cleanest” fruits and vegetables. The full list is 51 fruits and vegetables long with differentiations for imported and domestic.

You can make your own judgement call on other fruits and vegetables. If you go with a rule that thin-skinned fruits like pears, cherries and berries tend to have more pesticide residue and ones with thicker rinds are cleaner, than you can start to sort out what you’ll buy organic and what you’ll buy conventional. Vegetables are a bit more all over the place. If it’s not much more to buy organic, and it fits in the grocery budget, I’ll get the organic kind. Things like carrots and beans are some of the quickest easiest crops to grow yourself. You can view the full list of the dirty to clean fruits and vegetables here.

If you’re panicked about actually remembering all this, there is an app that you can download for a quick reminder or a wallet size card to print out to take with you. During your grocery list organization, you can check back with the list.

Don’t forget about organic versions of processed fruit like raisins, apple sauce or frozen fruits and vegetables. If the fruit or vegetable is “dirty” try to get any version of it organic, if the fruit or vegetable is “clean, you can get the conventional, processed version.

Besides growing your own, foraging is a great way to get organic fruits for free.




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