10 Organic Grocery Items That Aren't Worth It

By Elizabeth Lang on 10 February 2015 8 comments
Photo: Steven Depolo

If you're like me, you buy organic because you believe it's good for you (fewer chemicals in your body and more nutrients in the food) and good for the environment (fewer pesticides sprayed on crops). But it's also expensive. So the question is: what kinds of foods can you get away with buying non-organic? (See also: The Only 15 Foods That Are Worth Buying Organic)

Here are 10 foods for which you can skip the organic and buy conventional instead.

1. Maple Syrup

While you should buy pure maple syrup instead of maple-flavored "syrup," it doesn't have to be organic. The same process is used to produce both organic and non-organic maple syrup and most non-organic syrup is made without pesticides or chemicals.

2. Seafood

The USDA currently has no organic standards for seafood, so if you see seafood labeled as "organic," beware. The label doesn't mean it adheres to any U.S. standards.

3. Quinoa

Quinoa has a bitter-tasting coating that's not appealing to pests, so most quinoa growers skip pesticides. Although there's a chance a farmer might spray a quinoa crop, it's unlikely. So, go ahead and buy conventional quinoa, since it's unlikely to have unhealthy chemicals.

4. Grapefruit Juice

Since grapefruit has a thick skin, most pesticides don't penetrate the fruit inside. You can skip organic grapefruit juice.

5. Avocados

You've probably noticed that organic avocados aren't that much more expensive than conventional ones. The reason? Like grapefruit, given their skin, growing organic avocados isn't that much more difficult than growing conventional avocados.

6. Most Tropical Fruit

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) came up with a "Clean 15" — 15 types of produce that have lower pesticides. Over 25% of this list was made up of tropical fruit. Pineapple, mango, papaya, and kiwi are all types of produce shown to have fewer pesticides.

7. Frozen Peas

My toddler son loves to eat frozen peas (and specifically to eat them still frozen.) We almost always tried to buy them organic, believing these to be better for him. Imagine my surprise to find out that they are also part of EWG's Clean 15.

8. Corn

Corn is another item I was surprised to see on EWG's list of produce with fewer pesticides. While they say there are fewer pesticides, remember that organic certification also means that the item is not genetically modified. So, if you are only choosing organic items to lower your exposure to pesticides, it's fine to buy conventional corn. But if you want to avoid genetically modified foods, then buy organic corn.

9. The 3 Cs: Cantaloupe, Cabbage, Cauliflower

One of the guidelines in knowing when to choose organic over conventional is whether you eat the skin. If you eat the skin, it's usually best to buy organic. With cantaloupe you don't eat the skin — so perhaps that's one reason it made the EWG Clean 15 list. But cabbage and cauliflower were also part of EWG's Clean 15. So a good way to remember these items is "the 3 Cs."

10. Onions

Since they're a staple of everything from meatloaf to stir fry, you might assume it's best to buy organic onions. Not so. Conventional onions have fewer pesticides than many other foods, partially due to the layers of outer skin that you peel away, so you can skip organic. Further, at least according to one study, organically grown onions do not offer any more nutrients than conventionally grown.

Do you mix and match conventionally grown produce and organically grow? How do you decide?

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Guest's picture
Guy on a Plane

Really a dumb article. You get halfway through then realize oh yeah GMOs, plus fail to mention the hazards of farmed fish. Eat organic everything, to support those killing themselves to make it, and boycott anyone selling anything that could harm you

Guest's picture
Dan C.

Please do not recycle the study you cite in item 10. It's a straw man argument--organic food is in demand because it is grown without heavy chemical and pesticide application and lacks GMOs (in most cases); not because it contains more nutrients.

Guest's picture
Guest

Just because a vegetable has a thick skin doesn't mean it keeps pesticides out. The pesticides still get into the soil and are absorbed by the plant through nutrition. And let's not forget about fungicides and insecticides and everything else they use in big agriculture. This article is blatantly misinformed and needs to be research further.

Guest's picture
GuestMort

Organic also is about he planet and worker safety.. If you care at all about honey bees, not to mention the health of farm workers and the communities where citrus is grown, you would be buying organic citrus: lemons, oranges and grapefruit.

Guest's picture
Guest

If a grower is not using pesticides, then what difference does it make if the produce is labeled "organic" or not? That was the point of the whole argument. And most produce is not GMO in the first place. It was completely appropriate to make that point in conjunction with corn, and not elsewhere. I guess it's worth it to some people to pay more to avoid doing any research for themselves.

Guest's picture
Guest

In the making of commercial grapefruit juice (and orange juice), the citrus fruit is NOT PEELED first, but dumped whole into a hopper and smashed, skin and all, which makes it one of the most toxic things you can drink. The sprays and pesticides are all included in store-bought citrus juice. The only safe way to consume non-organic grapefruit juice is to squeeze it yourself in a hand-held juicer, or peel it first for an electric juice machine.

Guest's picture
BrackettSpeaks

Elizabeth - Papaya - are GMO as well. I agree with guy on a plane..support the food that supports our soil, water supply, other animals and all the humans that grow it. Organic does have more nutrition, it tastes better and it supports long term sustainability of the planet. It is never stupid to make the oragnic choice.

Guest's picture
Former Farmer

Just to be clear: organic food is worse for the environment. The whole reason why farmers use pesticides and GMOs is to get higher crop yields per acre. When you farm otherwise, you use more land to get the same amount of food. Not only is using up more farmland wasteful, but more lands means more pollution. It takes fossil-fuels to work land, and using up farmland infringes on natural ecosystems.