Which foods you must buy organic, and those you don’t. Read the list of the “dirty dozen and clean 15″, and watch Dr. Weil expound on the topic.
WHEN I’M shopping for food, I often get sticker shock in the organic section. “Is this really worth it”, I mutter to myself.
My instinct is to just grin and bear the extra cost of organic food, telling myself that it’s an investment in my health, like all the supplements I consume and exercise I sweat over.
But sometimes money is tight, and I wonder if there are some conventionally grown foods that won’t treat my body as a chemical dump for pesticides.
Are some non-organic foods just good enough?
Turns out, yes, there are conventionally-grown food that won’t potentially poison you. In fact, you can optimize your food dollars by purchasing the organic alternatives only of high-pesticide, conventionally grown food. For those foods that are conventionally grown and safe, buy them rather than the organic alternatives.
There’s a list of these foods below, but before you get there, consider what the fuss is all about.
Are Organic Foods Better?
This question is not easily answered because various studies on the matter are contradictory. Dr. Walter Crinnon does a good job of digging into the issue and comes up with an important distinction in his article, Are Organic Foods Worth the Price? And Do They Live up to the Hype? . Here, Dr. Crinnon emphasizes the need to understand the relative nutritional differences between conventional versus organic food, and the reasons for them. He says:
“The key in unraveling these studies was in noting how long the plots of land had been under organic farming methods. Tomatoes from ‘newly planted’ organic plots were not superior, but those from ‘mature’ organic plots were definitely better. So, the longer the farm has been organic, the better the quality of the food.”
After reviewing the research (such as this UK study), Dr. Crinnon concludes that multiple studies clearly show that organically grown food contains more vitamin, minerals and phytonutrients than those grown conventionally.
The finding about increased phytonutrients content is particularly important, as phytonutrients have been found to be responsible for many of the health benefits of foods. These compounds have powerful antioxidant capabilities, and help protect our cells from damage.
Are Pesticides A Problem?
Beyond the value of what you get more of in organic food –the extra vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, is there some value in what you get less of – pesticides? Let’s take a reading break and watch what Dr. Andrew Weil has to say about pesticides and organic food. (It’s sobering information, but important to know.)
Dr. Weil’s comments provide a good segue to the next part of this post – the foods you really, really should buy that are grown organically, and which you can get away with buying that are conventionally grown.
The Dirty Dozen
You can reduce exposure to pesticides by 80% by not consuming the most contaminated foods at the grocer. The Environmental Working Group has been diligently working since 1995 to examine government data and discern which produce contain the most chemicals.
Here’s the list of the “Dirty Dozen” – the foods you must either avoid or buy organic:
|“Dirty” Food, Conventionally Grown||Problem||Alternatives|
|1. Celery||Contains 64 chemicals that are difficult to wash off.||Organic celery, broccoli, radishes, onions.|
|2. Peaches||62 pesticides.||Organic peaches, or watermelon, tangerines, oranges, grapefruit.|
|3. Strawberries||59 pesticides.||Organic strawberries, kiwi, pineapple.|
|4. Blueberries||52 pesticides.||Organic blueberries, and any of the fruit in this column.|
|5. Apples||42 pesticides.||Organic apples, watermelon, bananas, tangerines.|
|6. Nectarines||33 pesticides.||Organic nectarines, watermelon, papaya, mango|
|7. Bell Peppers||49 pesticides.||Organic bell peppers, green peas, broccoli, cabbage.|
|8. Spinach||48 pesticides.||Organic spinach, cabbage, broccoli.|
|9. Cherries||42 pesticides.||Organic cherries, raspberries, cranberries.|
|10. Potatoes||37 pesticides.||Organic potatoes, eggplant, cabbage, earthy mushrooms.|
|11. Grapes||34 pesticides (in wine too).||Organic grapes, kiwi, raspberries.|
|12. Kale||No number of pesticides listed, but on the “Dirty Dozen.”||Organic kale, cabbage, asparagus, broccoli.|
The Clean 15
Now let’s turn to those conventionally grown foods that are safe to eat… those that you DO NOT have to buy organic. Of course, if you can afford it, you’re better off getting the organic varieties of these for the nutritional value discussed above. However, if the organic alternative are not available or you wish to save some money, these are deemed safe:
|“Clean” Food, Conventionally Grown||Why?||Select|
|1. Onion||Onions don’t see as many pest threats, which means less pesticide spraying.||Choose firm onions that have a distinctive “oniony” smell but not overpowering, and with no visible signs of damage or soft spots. Store in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator.|
|2. Avocados||Avocados have thick skins that protect the fruit from pesticide build-up.||Look for avocados that are still somewhat unripe and firm to the squeeze. Store at room temperature. Although you’ll be using only the meat of the avocado, rinse before slicing them open.|
|3. Corn||Corn often requires a lot of fertilizer to grow, but you’re unlikely to end up with any pesticides on the kernels.||Buy it fresh and local, and boil it that day for the best results.|
|4. Pineapple||The tough pineapple skin protects the fruit from pesticide residue. As with all your produce, you should rinse the pineapple before cutting.||If it has a strong, sweet smell, it usually means that the pineapple is overripe and has begun to ferment. Like all other fruits, avoid any that have soft spots, and in the case of pineapples, damage to the rind. Store in the refrigerator crisper.|
|5. Mango||The flesh is protected by its thick skin from pesticides. Still, rinse it under water before cutting open.||look for mangos that are bright in color such as red, yellow, or orange. It should have a distinctive “fruity” smell. If there’s no ripe-fruit aroma, steer clear. Mangoes should be slightly firm but yield to your touch somewhat — the softer the mango, usually the sweeter it is. If the mango is too soft, there’s a good chance that it will be rotten inside. Store in the refrigerator crisper.|
|6. Asparagus||Asparagus face fewer threats from pests such as insects or disease, so fewer pesticides need to be used.||Look for firm spears with bright green or purplish compact tips. Plan on a 1/2 pound per person, and for more uniform cooking, select spears of a similar thickness. Store in the refrigerator vegetable crisper and give them a good rinse before using (even if you’re going to boil them).|
|7. Peas||Peas are among the least likely vegetables to have pesticide residue, according to the Environmental Working Group’s latest survey of government data.||If you’re not growing sweet peas in your garden, then look for full, green pea pods at your local farmers market, farm stand or grocery store.|
|8. Kiwi||Kiwi peel provides a barrier from pesticides. Give them a rinse before cutting.||Your nose knows – sniff around for kiwis that smell good. They should be plump and yield to a squeeze. Steer clear from those with moist areas on their surface or any skin bruising. If unripe kiwi are all that are available, simply take them home and place them in a paper bag at room temperature with other fruits that need more time, such as bananas or pears. Store in the refrigerator crisper.|
|9. Cabbage||Cabbage doesn’t hold on to so many pesticides because a ton of spraying isn’t required to grow it.||Look for cabbage heads whose leaves are tight and be sure the head is heavy for its type, and firm. Make sure the outer leaves are shiny and crisp. “Savoy” is the exception to this rule, as it forms a looser head and the leaves grow crinkly naturally. Avoid any with leaves that show signs of yellowing. (Bok choy should have deep green leaves with their stems a crisp-looking white.) Discard the outer leaves of a cabbage before using. You can wash and spin most cabbage leaves just like you do salad greens. Store in the refrigerator crisper.|
|10. Eggplant||Perhaps it’s the thick skin, but eggplants are among the least likely to be contaminated by pesticides, according to the Environmental Working Group.||Look for firm and glossy eggplants to know they’re ripe and undamaged.|
|11. Papaya||Pesticide residue stays on papaya skin, but be sure to give them a wash before slicing open.||Papaya colors usually range between yellow and green. Look for those that are slightly soft and show no signs of bruising or appear shriveled. If they’re not fully ripened, you can toss them in the brown bag along with your unripened kiwi fruit, peaches, and pears. Once they’re ripened, store in the refrigerator crisper.|
|12. Watermelon||Blessed with a thick rind, watermelon has a natural defense against the onslaught of any chemical.||Look for a firm whole melon without any soft spots.|
|13. Broccoli||Broccoli doesn’t retain many pesticides because the crop faces fewer pest threats, which means less spraying.||Look for tightly bunched flower buds on the broccoli stalks that are immature; ie: not when their little yellow flowers have opened. Should be deep green and the stalks firm, not rubbery. Before use, wash in a cool water bath and change the water a couple of times in the process. Store in the refrigerator crisper.|
|14. Tomatoes||Tomatoes were on the 2008 Dirty Dozen list of foods with the most pesticide residue, but the latest update finds them cleaner than most. Why? The Environmental Working Group isn’t sure.||For the best taste, check for fresh in-season tomatoes at local farmers markets and farm stands. Look for glossy, firm skin — and don’t hesitate to try a delicious heirloom variety that might not look like a typical tomato!|
|15. Sweet Potato||Not only are sweet potatoes unlikely to be contaminated with pesticides, they’re also a superfood, packed with Vitamin A and beta carotene.||It’s hard to go wrong choosing a hardy sweet potato. Make sure it isn’t beaten up or rotting.|
[For a list of the 33 healthiest foods on earth, as compiled by billionaire David Murdock, check out this 86-Year-old's Recipe for Longevity.]
Some of the posts on this blog merit the attention of everyone, and such is this one; after all, we all eat and want to eat food without chemicals. So do send this to the people you care about… this knowledge will not only make a difference in their health, but also send the right signal to farmers and food manufacturers to produce safe food.
Published on June 7, 2010