Organic food benefits not only consumers, but producers and the environment. Organic farmers are not exposed to the chemical pesticides and fertilizers that conventional farmers use, which in turn reduces chemical run-off into the soil and surrounding water. This keeps the environment healthier and ensures that the soil will continue to produce excellent crops for years to come. But reduced chemical use on the crops also means that the individuals eating organic fruits and veggies are swallowing fewer chemicals.
Unfortunately, organic produce is typically more expensive than conventionally grown food. To help consumers out, the Environmental Working Group annually compiles a list known as “The Dirty Dozen”, a ranking of the twelve kinds of produce that contain the most pesticide residue. It is estimated that buying organic versions of these twelve foods can reduce an individual’s pesticide intake by approximately 80%. The EWG updates this list each year, as the amount of pesticide use can vary depending on weather, insect populations, and other variable conditions. So if you’re looking for the most cost effective way to begin eating more organic fruits and veggies, these are the ones that are most important to ensure are organic.
1) Apples (including apple juice and applesauce) – Typically have the highest pesticide content of any fruit.
2) Strawberries – Studies show that organically grown strawberries have antioxidant levels that are 19% higher than their conventionally grown siblings.
3) Grapes (including raisins) – One grape sample contained 15 different pesticides. This is another reason why I also recommend finding organic wine.
4) Celery – This is the worst offender on the entire list and has ranked high for pesticide content for years.
5) Peaches – Peaches contain high levels of carotenes, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
6) Spinach – While the tests for this list were run on fresh spinach, studies show that frozen and canned spinach have equally high levels of pesticide residue.
7) Sweet bell peppers – Red bell peppers have nearly double vitamin C as their green counterparts. Additionally, bell peppers are very easy to grow organically at home.
8) Nectarines – Imported nectarines are the biggest culprit here, so make sure you’re buying domestic (and preferably local) nectarines.
9) Cucumbers – As many as 35 different pesticides were found on cucumbers during testing. Peeling the cucumber before eating it may reduce the amount of pesticides ingested.
10) Tomatoes – Conventionally grown tomatoes are not only sprayed with many pesticides, modern plant breeding and farming practices have drastically reduced the amount of calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C that are found in a tomato. Lucky for you, organic tomatoes are easy to grow at home and don’t take up much space.
11) Snap peas – Similar to nectarines, imported snap peas are the biggest issue. Buy locally to avoid the pesticides.
12) Potatoes – Potatoes have a high risk of pesticides being absorbed since they are truly a root, so just peeling the potato first won’t work. Either buy organic potatoes or substitute sweet potatoes which have a significantly lower level of pesticides.
For more information on pesticides in and on your food, please visit http://www.whatsonmyfood.org/ run by the Pesticide Action Network. This is an easy-to-use database that shows you what pesticides are found on which foods and the effect of those pesticides on the human body. They even have a smartphone app!