The Buyer’s Guide to Organic Produce

Featured Article, Healthy Cooking Tips, Healthy Recipes and Nutrition
on May 7, 2014
Organic Produce

Spring ushers in a bevy of fresh and amazing tasting produce, but when you’re at the grocery store amid the mountains of fruits and vegetables, how do you know if you should shell out the extra cash for organic produce?

First, know the difference: conventional produce relies on chemical fertilizers for growth as well as synthetic insecticides to protect plants, while organic uses natural fertilizers and insecticides, for example. According to the Environmental Working Group, 67 percent of produce contains at least one pesticide.

Though there are mixed results about whether or not organic produce packs more nutrients compared to regular fruit and vegetables, the clear benefit to organic is that it reduces your exposure to potentially toxic chemicals.

Still, the health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure, the EWG notes. For one, a new study from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that people who eat seven servings of produce a day have 42 percent lower odds of premature death (from factors like heart disease and cancer). So if you can’t go organic all the time, that’s okay.

But when your budget allows, here is the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list of the commonly most contaminated fruits and vegetables you should consider buying organic, and which ones are least likely to contain pesticide reside and are okay to eat conventional, called the “Clean 15”:


Fruit: Apples, strawberries, grapes, peaches, cherry tomatoes, nectarines (imported)

Vegetables: Celery, cucumbers, hot peppers, potatoes, spinach, sweet bell peppers, kale/collard greens, summer squash

Why? Every sample of imported nectarines and 99 percent of the samples of apples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue; celery, cherry tomatoes, and sweet bell peppers each contained 13 different pesticides. Leafy greens and summer squash were also added to the Dirty Dozen list because of concerns these contain a toxic pesticide called organophosphate.


Fruit: Avocado, cantaloupe, grapefruit, kiwi, mango, pineapple, papaya

Vegetables: Asparagus, cabbage, sweet corn, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, sweet peas, sweet potatoes

Why? For instance, the EWG found that 78 percent of mangos and 75 percent of kiwis had no residue at all. Plus, foods with tougher exteriors are often safer to eat since you don’t consume the skin. (Still, be sure to wash them first!) Most of the vegetables are on this list because they didn’t test positive for more than one pesticide.