The Only 15 Foods That Are Worth Buying Organic

In a perfect world, all food would be organic and we would all be able to afford it. Instead we're faced with awkward produce-aisle decisions every time we step foot into a grocery store — is this worth paying $.50, $1, $5 more? What are the health implications, and is organic equally important across the board?

Let's get real here: most organic food has not been proven to be "better" for you, meaning it doesn't contain more nutrients or some magic cancer-fighting voodoo. So far, studies have been inconclusive about the effects of eating a diet rich in organic foods versus non-organic. But even skeptics can't argue with the principles of organic farming and food buying: no harmful chemicals and sustainable environmental practices.

Not everyone can afford to go full organic, and that's where the Environmental Working Group (EWG) comes in. The non-profit publishes research yearly based on the level of pesticides found in fruits and veggies, and ranks them from worst to best.

Below is a list of 15 food items using the EWG and other researchers' information that you should pony up for and go organic. Everything on this list is doubly important for kids and pregnant women. Finally, whenever possible, buy local.

1. Apples

If you're going to buy just one thing organic, make it apples. They consistently appear at the top of the EWG's offenders list, harboring a number of pesticides that traditional farmers use to keep pests and disease at bay. Most of the harmful stuff is contained in the skin, but it's also the healthiest part of the apple. Luckily, organic versus non-organic apples has one of the lowest price differences, so you won't be paying double for your peace of mind.

2. Baby Food

Many doctors think that babies are more susceptible to the potential negative health impacts of pesticides. When your baby begins to transition to solid food, it's a good idea to feed your child organic whenever possible. This is especially true for the fruits and vegetables on this list, since they tend to have more pesticide residue in the first place. To offset the increase in cost, consider buying in bulk.

3. Strawberries and Blueberries

Berries are sensitive and heavily exposed — they don't have a tough outer shell or skin to protect them. Because they grow largely unprotected, they are more susceptible to pests, and pesticides are often the solution. Note that according to the EWG, domestically-grown blueberries are more contaminated than international varieties.

4. Peaches and Nectarines

These delicious stone fruits have thin, edible skins and are naturally delicate, so they are typically sprayed with various poisons to keep them from molding and to keep away pests. Even if you peel your peaches or nectarines, traces of chemicals will remain. Some doctors suggest buying organic versions of these fruit is especially important if you are pregnant or have children.

5. Celery

Celery also scored high on EWG's list, with 13 chemicals detected in total. The crunchy veggie is porous and grows largely outside of the ground, so it absorbs chemicals easily. Next time you're at the market, reach for the organic option, along with a jar of…

6. Peanut Butter

If you have kids or just love peanut butter as much as a kid, then consider investing in organic peanut butter. It will be pesticide-free, plus most organic brands utilize a healthier recipe to boost the good-for-you-ness. It may take a few tries to find a brand you like and get your family on board, especially if they are used to the sugary, unnaturally smooth stuff, but it's worth it.

7. Potatoes

Considering the amount of potatoes an average American consumes, switching to organic spuds is a no-brainer. Even if you're scrubbing and peeling your potatoes, there's a very good chance they still contain potentially-harmful chemicals. The EWG found that the average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food tested. So before mashing or frying or baking, shell out a few more cents for organic taters and put your mind at ease.

8. Milk

Traditional farming practices now include treating cows with hormones so that they will produce more milk. Unfortunately, we can't have our milk and drink it too. Some of these hormones are passed on to the consumer, and although we do not know the full impact, many people are choosing the precautionary route and switching their families to organic dairy. Look for rBGH-free on the label.

9. Greens

Delicate greens, including spinach, lettuce, kale, and collard greens all make it in the top 15 of EWG's list. Many highly toxic chemicals are permitted on leafy greens, and even chemicals that were banned in recent years can still be absorbed through the soil and show up in the plants. If you are a frequent salad eater, just go ahead and buy organic. The EWG recommends that kale and collard green lovers that don't buy organic should consider cooking before eating.

10. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are one of the only fruits or vegetables that has been proven to be more nutritious in organic form. According to a study, organic tomatoes have nearly double the concentration of flavonoids, which are considered very healthful. Conventional tomatoes also made the EWG naughty list, so the choice seems clear: organic all the way.

11. Bell Peppers

Sweet bell peppers rank high on the list, as these colorful veggies tend to have surprising amounts of pesticides remaining on them. Go organic when you can, and when eating conventional bell peppers be sure to give them a nice, cold bath. Cooking also helps to reduce the amount of chemicals present.

12. Grapes

During the EWG's testing, they found a single grape with fifteen different pesticides present. Gross. Because they ripen quickly and end up attracting insects, grapes often get sprayed with a multitude of chemicals to keep them untouched and in perfect eating order. If you can't find organic or can't stomach the price tag, buy seasonally from a local source and give them a good wash.

13. Meat

The European Union has already banned the use of hormones in cattle, but the practice is still permitted in many other countries, including the U.S. These hormones can remain in the meat, and the potential health effects of ingesting them on a regular basis is not yet well studied. But buying organic meat is as much about the potential health risks of the growth hormones and antibiotics as it is about choosing the more humane option. Organic cattle are typically given more space, allowed to graze, and fed natural feed so that they can live a happy and healthy life before making it to the plate.

14. Cucumbers

Conventional varieties of this refreshing vegetable are typically treated with a petroleum-based wax to preserve freshness. This wax is also good at holding on to already present pesticides, and is impossible to completely wash off at home. Organic varieties omit this wax, making them a superior produce aisle choice. When eating the conventional version, be sure to wash and peel the cucumber — although this does not guarantee removal of all chemicals, and it removes some of the nutrients.

15. Hot Peppers

For those who indulge in spice on a regular basis, try to buy organic hot peppers whenever possible. Conventional hot peppers often have high levels of harmful pesticides, partly because a few especially nasty chemicals are permitted on peppers that aren't allowed on other common crops.

What does your organic shopping list look like?

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The Only 15 Foods That Are Worth Buying Organic

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Guest's picture

I think organic butter taste better

Guest's picture

Skeptics can, in fact, argue with your principals because you're making at least one patently false assumption: that organic food is free of pesticide residues.
First off, you're using the EWG as your source for the entire article; the EWG is listed as a dubious organization on Quackwatch, and their "dirty dozen" list is debunked here:
Organic produce does contain pesticide residues
I would agree with you that it would be prudent to minimize exposure to dietary pesticide residues. However, if you look at apples which are at the top of the list with often the most pesticide residue, you will see that Thiabendazole, highest PDP value @7ppm, has a NOAEL of 10 mg/kg-bw/day. That means, if you had a bodyweight of 50kg, you could eat over 500 apples per day and the pesticide exposure would have no effect on functional capacity, growth, development, or your life span.

Guest's picture
Martin Gibson

As the fertilizers have been used these days are rich in chemicals and harmful contents so people rather get more interested for taking organic foods. Thanks for adding the article. It's really valuable giving an account of more healthy foods. Really the above 15 foods are much better than buying organic. I'm having my own farm and I depend on it for all my vegetables and for some fruits also. Using organic plant foods are the great alternative to these 15 items mentioned here.