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What Foods Should I Buy Organic?

Robin lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has three children and loves to share delicious recipes with other cooking enthusiasts.

Fresh, organic vegetables

Fresh, organic vegetables

Organic vs. Non-Organic Food

"Organic" food is grown without the use of conventional fertilizers or pesticides to control weeds and pests. Many people prefer organic foods because organically grown food is better for the environment and because they believe organic food is healthier. While there's no good research showing that organic foods are more nutritious than non-organic ones, there are other ways that eating organic foods can be healthier.

  • Pesticide Residues: Farmers use pesticides and other chemicals on their crops, which can leave residues on the produce you buy at the store. Organic food has much lower rates of pesticide residue.
  • Food Additives: Organic foods do not contain preservatives, artificial sweeteners or MSG.
  • Environment: Organic farming is better for the environment since some pesticides can contaminate local groundwater and are made with fossil fuels.

The "Dirty Dozen" Plus: 14 Foods to Buy Organic

Below are the 14 foods with the highest pesticide levels. If you're on a tight budget, these are the fruits and veggies you should still make a point of buying organic.

  1. Apples
  2. Strawberries
  3. Grapes
  4. Celery
  5. Peaches
  6. Spinach
  7. Sweet bell peppers
  8. Nectarines (imported)
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry tomatoes
  11. Snap peas (imported)
  12. Potatoes

While other berries, e.g., raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc, are not on the list, I highly recommend buying them organic. They are difficult to wash individually to remove the pesticides.

The Dirty Dozen Plus

These foods were added to the Dirty Dozen list in 2014 because of their toxicity and effect on the nervous system.

  1. Kale, collard greens, and other leafy vegetables
  2. Hot peppers

The "Clean 15": Foods You Don't Have to Buy Organic

Ideally, all the food you buy would be organic for environmental and health reasons. However, that is not always financially feasible. If you are going to buy non-organic foods, these are the foods with the lowest pesticide levels. The Environmental Working Group tested these non-organic fruits and vegetables after they had been thoroughly washed and found little to no pesticide residue.

  1. Avocado
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Cabbage
  5. Pineapple
  6. Onions
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mango
  9. Papaya
  10. Kiwi
  11. Eggplant
  12. Grapefruit
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Sweet Potatoes

Recipes for Homemade Vegetable and Fruit Washes

All fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly cleaned before eating (even organic foods have bacteria—think about the picking, transporting, and stocking of the fruit). Even fruits or vegetables that are peeled—like pineapples and squash—should be washed to avoid contaminating the knife or peeler. For those vegetables that are not going to be peeled, you can either buy a vegetable wash to remove the pesticides or make your own.

Here are a few recipes for homemade vegetable and fruit washes. Just pour the ingredients into a squirt bottle, spray directly on fruits and vegetables, scrub with a vegetable brush, and rinse.

Lemon Juice and Vinegar Wash

  • 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup of water

Vinegar and Salt Wash

  • 1/4 cup of vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of salt

Lemon and Baking Soda Wash

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons of baking soda
  • 1 cup of water

Grapefruit Seed Extract and Vinegar Wash

  • 1 cup of distilled white vinegar
  • 20 drops of grapefruit seed extract
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 cup of water

Resources for Finding Organic Foods

If your local grocery store doesn't have a large selection of organic food, there are other easy ways to find delicious organic fruits and vegetables.

  • Check out your local farmer's market. Farmer's markets have become increasingly popular over the past ten years and are great places to meet local farmers and buy farm-fresh, organic produce. Many even have live entertainment, turning grocery shopping from a chore into an enjoyable family outing. Visit Local Harvest to search for farmer's markets in your area.
  • Subscribe to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). With a CSA, you buy shares in a local farm and in return receive a weekly box of farm-fresh produce—often delivered right to your door. CSAs are great ways to develop relationships with local food growers and to get exposed to new fruits and vegetables. Visit Local Harvest to find a CSA where you live.

Finding organic produce to cook at home can be difficult enough, but what happens when you go out to eat? How do you know which restaurants serve organic food? Luckily, the Eat Well Guide can help you find local bakers, stores, caterers, and restaurants that serve organic food.

Important Things to Remember

  • Organic foods many times spoil more quickly than non-organic ones because small, organic farmers aren't as efficient in getting their products to the market. So try to eat your organic veggies quickly!
  • Read labels carefully. Don't be fooled by descriptions like "natural," "all-natural," or "free-range." All organic foods at your local grocery store will carry a USDA certification and label.
  • That said, at a farmer's market, many vendors will follow organic growing practices even if they're not certified, so be sure to ask whether they use pesticides.