Most people who eat organic tend to go for the staples: organic, hormone-free milk, organic cage free eggs, free-range beef—mostly animal products. But the pervading thought is that vegetables get a free pass, and you don’t have to get the organic ones.
Or do you?
Unfortunately, a lot of fruits and vegetables that aren’t grown organically wind up with a fair amount of pesticide residue on them, and it’s not always easy to get off. Certain fruits and veggies you can always peel, but even then, you need to wash these pretty thoroughly before and after you peel them. Also, a downside to doing this is that a lot of nutrients lay in the skins of certain fruits and veggies (like apples and potatoes), so you can lose a lot of their nutritional value by peeling them.
So what does that mean? Do you need to shell out the extra money and buy all of your food organic? No, definitely not. The best ways to cut down on costs are to shop for fruits and veggies that are in-season, and preferably at a place like a farmer’s market where you don’t have to worry about the use of pesticides. However, if you still need to go to your regular grocery store, the best way to avoid these toxic chemicals is to pay attention to the Environmental Working Group’s annual “Dirty Dozen” list.
What the EWG does is analyze information from the Department of Agriculture about the amounts of pesticide residue and it provides a ranking system for foods based on how much or little pesticide residue they have. What’s really great is if you switch to buying these twelve foods organic, you can reduce your exposure to pesticides by about 80%.
So which foods made the list?
Apples. Alas, one of my favorites! But apples are prone to having all sorts of fungi and insects attacking them, and farmers frequently have to douse them in pesticides to eliminate these. Luckily, you can either buy them organic—or, if you are looking for fruits with comparable nutritional value, help yourself to some in-season watermelon or a banana.
Celery. I was surprised by this one, but apparently USDA tests have found more than 60 different pesticides on celery. Yikes! Luckily, a great alternative (which packs a better nutritional punch) is broccoli.
Strawberries. Yup, these sweet berries (a favorite of my family) frequently wind up with more than 60 different pesticides on them as well, due to how prone they are to fungal growth. You can substitute frozen strawberries for less chemical exposure, but you can get the same nutritional benefits from pineapple.
Peaches. That soft, fuzzy exterior is a perfect collection site for pesticides. You can get canned peaches, which retain far less of the residue, or you can opt for fruits like oranges or tangerines.
Spinach. Unfortunately there isn’t really a substitute for spinach, so getting organic really is best.
Nectarines. Another one of my favorites, but again you can always substitute pineapple for the same nutrients.
Grapes (and Raisins!). Apparently both have high residue tests, and since my son loves these, I always try and find them organic.
Sweet Bell Peppers. Over fifty different types of pesticide residue have been found on these.
Potatoes. We love potatoes in my house, but sometimes I will substitute sweet potatoes instead—they’re loaded with beta carotene anyway, which is great for little ones.
Blueberries. It’s hard to get pesticides off of the berries, which is a shame since they’re loaded with antioxidants. It’s best to buy these organic.
Lettuce. Seriously, can’t we get a break anywhere?
Kale. You can always substitute broccoli, but kale is so good for you that it is probably worth it to just buy organic.
So, that’s the Dirty Dozen.
What can you buy non-organic? The EWG also has a helpful “Clean Fifteen” List:
2. Sweet Corn
6. Sweet peas
9. Cantaloupe (domestic)
13. Sweet Potatoes
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