Which fruit and veg to buy organic? Well, many would say the more you buy organic the better.
But is it really worth it to buy everything organic?
And what if you can’t? What if some foods just aren’t available to buy organic in your area?
If you don’t have an organic farm outside your door or a farmer’s market just down the street, I’ve put together a list of which fruit and veg to buy organic as a minimum, so you can get the most out of your food money.
The first thing to be aware of is something called ‘the dirty dozen’.
The dirty dozen
What’s the dirty dozen, you may ask?
The dirty dozen are the 12 most important fruit and veg to buy organic – because they tend to soak up the most pesticides. Some of them can contain up to 67 different pesticides.
The reason they soak up pesticides more readily than other foods apparently has to do with the softness of the skin.
So as you read through these foods, have a think about how they are grown, or how thick or thin their skin is.
Let’s take a look at the ‘Dirty Dozen’ foods one at a time.
They are listed in the order of the worst ‘offenders’ first.
Apples are at the very top of the list for nonorganic foods that soak up a lot of pesticides!
So definitely get them organic if you can. And if you like apples and can’t find them organic, well…you could plant a tree…or find a friend who has an apple tree, and offer to help with the ‘harvest’!
Like celery, strawberries tested for 13 different pesticides. These are particularly important to buy organic if you can, because you obviously can’t peel them!
Yet another fruit that is difficult to peel…sigh. And grapes, like strawberries, are very high in water content – so any food that has absorbed a lot of water will retain the pesticides as well.
Grapes when tested contained no less than 15 different pesticides. Scary!
Celery is great in juices or to use for dipping, and again you can’t peel it! So get it organic if you possibly can. Especially as it tested for over 13 different pesticides!
Peaches of course can be peeled, but the skin is very thin, and they are high in water content.
Pictured above is some gorgeous purple kale that I got at my local organic veg market (Sundays only, but better than nothing, sigh!)
You can’t peel these greens of course(!) An alternative if you can’t find organic greens could be to use wild greens such as sorrel, which you can read more about on this wild food site here, or other wild greens which I’ve written about here.
Spinach is at the top of this list of greens, but they’re all best bought organic.
Sweet Bell Peppers
You can’t really peel sweet bell peppers unless you roast them first (and you’d still ingest the pesticides).
A scary experiment with sweet bell peppers is to buy an organic one and a nonorganic one, and leave them out for a few days. The nonorganic one will develop bizarre growths that are furry and dark in color, as if someone started to stain the pepper with a paintbrush and hairs grew out of the stains (yuck!). The organic one will just get wrinkly. Big difference!
With their thin skin and lots of water content, they also contain high amounts – though apparently of only 1 pesticide. Sometimes 1 is enough though!
Unsurprisingly, cucumbers retain a high amount of pesticide residue along with the water that they absorb. They are roughly 96% water, so even if you peel them, there are still plenty of pesticides inside.
These contained 13 different pesticides too!
You wouldn’t think they’re high in water content, but they are – and that thin skin absorbs lots of pesticides from the soil.
Potatoes in a recent test were shown to contain more pesticides by weight than any other food tested. Wow!
White potatoes can’t be eaten raw, but for those of you who cook them, you really want to buy organic if you can.
Snap peas can contain 13 different pesticides. No thanks!
Any high water content fruit and veg that has a thin skin. The water has been chemically treated, and the chemicals are literally inside the fruit or veg, even if you peel them.
So foods like hot peppers (pictured above), blueberries, and cherries would fall into this category.
Can’t I just wash and peel these foods?
Well yes, you can – most of them, anyway.
Experts say though that washing and peeling doesn’t accomplish much.
Why? Because as these foods are high in water content, the pesticides are both inside and out. The chemicals are carried in the water and are present throughout the flesh of the fruit or veg.
Why are pesticide levels so important?
I didn’t have this information when my children were growing up, and I wish I had. It turns out that one of the most susceptible populations to pesticides are…children.
Children’s brains are still forming even into their teenage years (I’ve got two teenagers so I can vouch that yes, their brains definitely aren’t ‘finished’), so ingesting pesticides can be harmful.
One of the articles I read in my research for this post quotes Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, as stating that:
“A kid’s brain goes through extraordinary development, and if pesticides get into the brain, it can cause damage.”
Of course not only children are affected. Pesticides have been linked to various health problems, particularly nervous system disorders (such as Parkinson’s), weakened immune systems, and ADHD. Is it any wonder that these conditions are on the rise?
If you want to scare yourself, you can see exactly which pesticides are commonly found on which foods.
So what’s the good news?
Aha! Amy Rosenthal of the Environmental Working Group tells us that:
“You can reduce your exposure to pesticides by up to 80 percent by buying the organic version of the Dirty Dozen,”
And Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, tells us that:
“To the extent you can afford to do so, [parents] should simply buy organic, because there have been some very good studies that shows people who eat mostly organic food reduce 95 percent of pesticides [in their body] in two weeks.”
Two weeks to reduce pesticides in the body? That seems like no time at all, right?
So who’s up for a good cleanse? I know I am!
And here are some foods that you don’t need to buy organic
Some ‘thick-skinned’ foods such as watermelon and pineapples do not need to be bought organic, as their thick peel helps protect the inner flesh from pesticides. They often contain little or no pesticide residue.
You’ll find a complete list of these foods which are referred to as the ‘clean 15’ here.
If you want to know more
Pesticides in our food is a massive subject and I used several articles for my research.
In case you haven’t clicked on the links above and you do want to read more, here are the websites that link to the articles:
And as always, I’d love to hear what you think – so let me know in the comments!