When Should You Choose Organic Food?

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For which fruits and vegetables is organic the smart choice–and why? We provide some pointers on how and when to choose organic food.

When To Choose Organic

A healthy diet should include generous amounts of fruit and veggies–a minimum of 5 servings a day is recommended. But do we really know what’s hidden inside some of this delicious-looking produce?

We should know what we need to eat, but also where our produce comes from, as so much of  today’s farming and agriculture uses excessive amounts of pesticides and other chemicals. The Environmental Working Group estimates that we can reduce our exposure to pesticides by 80 percent if we’re aware which foods and produce typically carries the highest pesticide residue and select organically grown instead. Certified Organic by the USDA means that produce has been organically grown without any use of chemicals and pesticides.

Though the organic label may mean a higher price, it’s important to consider the health effects that harmful chemicals might have on our babies and children, potentially resulting in health problems with added medical–and other non-quantifiable–costs. When considering the items on the “dirty dozen” list below, adjusting your budget to include organic instead of conventionally-grown produce may be the smartest choice.

This is an updated 2014 list:

The Dirty Dozen–choose organic:

1. apples: 99 percent of conventional apples contain pesticides;
2. strawberries: single sample contained 13 different pesticides;
3. grapes: single grape sample contained 15 pesticides
4. celery: single sample contained 13 different pesticides;
5. peaches
6. spinach
7. sweet bell peppers
8. nectarines, imported: every sample tested positive for at least one pesticide;
9. cucumbers
10. cherry tomatoes: single sample contained 13 different pesticides;
11. snap peas, imported: single sample contained 13 different pesticides;
12. potatoes: average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food.

The Dirty Dozen Plus:

13. hot peppers
14. blueberries, domestic

The Clean 15: non-organic is ok:

1. avocado
2. sweet corn
3. pineapples
4. cabbage
5. sweet peas-frozen
6. onions
7. asparagus
8. mangoes
9. papaya
10. kiwi
11. eggplant
12. grapefruit
13. cantaloupe
14. cauliflower
15. sweet potatoes

No single fruit sample from the Clean 15 tested positive for more than 4 types of pesticides. Detecting multiple pesticide residues is extremely rare on Clean 15 vegetables-only 5.5 percent of Clean 15 samples had two or more pesticides.

When To Choose Organic

Some of the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables:

  • A diet rich in fruit and vegetables may reduce risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke.
  • Some fruit and vegetables may protect against certain types of cancers.
  • Some fruit and vegetables are rich in fiber, and may reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Fruit and vegetables rich in potassium may lower blood pressure, and may also reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and help to decrease bone loss.
  • Fruit and vegetables that are lower in calories per cup instead of some other higher-calorie food may be useful in helping to lower calorie intake.

For more information on pesticides and produce, check out the Environmental Work Group‘s EWG’s 2013 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

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