Which Fruits & Vegetables Should We Buy Organic?

Is organic produce healthier than conventionally grown produce?

I do not know of a study that has directly tested health outcomes in humans who consume conventionally grown produce compared to organically grown produce. However, there are studies showing harmful effects of pesticides on the neurological and reproductive development in animals. There are also studies that measure and rank the amount of pesticide residue found in conventionally grown versus organically grown produce.

The certified organic seal does not guarantee low pesticide levels or safety but it does insure that farmers have followed stringent guidelines to grow and handle their produce. In general, organic farming emphasizes environmentally-friendly practices, including avoidance of chemicals typically used to spur growth, kill pests, or reduce risk of infection. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a website that thoroughly explains the National Organic Program. If you are wondering what package seals and terms means, then see this guide.

I believe in the premise of organic farming. However, I am also aware that most of us need to budget for food and that even conventionally grown produce is hard for many to afford in the amounts recommended for adults (2½ cups of veggies and 2 cups of fruit daily for a diet containing 2000 calories).

For foods that you consume daily or regularly, you might want to consider going organic for those that contain high pesticide levels when grown conventionally.

Environmental Working Group

I find the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides” particularly helpful in choosing which fruits and vegetables to buy organic. According to the EWG, produce highest in pesticides when grown conventionally include peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, grapes, carrots, and pears. Produce lowest in pesticides when grown conventionally are onions, avocados, corn, pineapples, mangoes, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, papaya, watermelon, broccoli, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.

For a description of how EWG created these lists, see this link. To view their complete list of produce ranked from highest to lowest pesticide content, please see this link.

Farmers Markets

One way to buy organic more affordably is to seek out produce at farmers markets and farm stands. By buying directly from the farmer, you cut out the distribution cost – this saves some money as well as lowers the carbon footprint.  As well, buying locally grown produce means you are eating seasonally – so you get super fresh, high quality produce that is likely to be higher in nutrients than produce that is trucked or flown long distances. Of course, another benefit of buying locally is that you support local business, which in turn, pays local taxes that serve to support services in the area in which you live.

I can’t guarantee that produce sold at your local farmers market will beat organic pricing at Walmart or Whole Foods. However, if you are buying directly from a local farmer, then there is a good chance that their price will match or beat the price of organics sold at your local supermarket.

More Resources on Buying Organic

Local Harvest:  Community Supported Agriculture

Cooking Light video:  “Editor’s guide to organics.”

CNNHealth: “How to buy the best organic foods.”

BusinessWeek: “Does it pay to buy organic?”

Consumer Reports: “Go organic”

Mayo Clinic: “Organic baby food: is it worth the price?”

Please feel free to post resources or comments about organic produce – I would love to hear from you.



Katherine Isacks, Registered Dietitian, LLC www.isacksrd.com

6 Responses

  1. Ryan
    If you want the EWG's list on your iPhone, there's an app for that (called "Dirty Produce"). There's also an app (Seafood Guide) that gives you recommendations on sustainable seafood choices.
  2. although the price of organic food is more expensive than the price of food is not organic, but the health benefits that we get more, too, so it is really okay to buy organic food
  3. Zainab
    Valuable information on produce that are highest in pesticides and those which are not. Knowing organic is better and healthier it is a lot more expensive and adds up to the grocery budget. I have always thought which foods really matter and how much. Between myself and my friends I have noticed that organic milk causes some kind of weight gain. Not sure if there is scientific evidence or any study confirming this but I do try to buy milk manufactured from organic sources rather than the conventional ones. I would hope the prices of organic items are lowered slightly to make them more affoardable for the majority of the public in these tough economic times.
  4. Hi, this is a nice web blog you have. I found it on dogpile while searching for some baby articles. Thanks and keep it up
  5. katherineb89
    I don't know about the U.S., but in Canada, pesticide residues on unwashed conventionally grown produce are said to be just as low as those on organic foods. (The CFIA conducts these tests on unwashed produce purchased from grocery stores.) When it comes to pesticide residues, toxicity is dose-dependent. Yes, pesticides are designed to be harmful, but they are applied in extremely small concentrations. They are also expensive, so it's in the interest of the farmer to apply only what is needed. I doubt that the majority of the population will fall ill from eating conventionally produced fruits and vegetables, even over a lifetime of exposure. Scientists do take these factors into account when designing and approving pesticides. I am not against organic farming per se, more the fact that its meaning has been so distorted and the fact that it relies on a culture of fear. It used to mean small polyculture farms, but now you can buy organic produce in Wal-Mart. Large-scale organic farming contradicts the original ideals of organic agriculture. Besides, excess tilling to deal with weeds leads to increased soil erosion. I agree that farmers markets are the way to go; you know where your food is coming from and it is probably the most nutritious, given that it's fresh and in season.
  6. Samantha
    I am a dietetic intern, and I really enjoyed looking through some of your blog posts (including more recent ones), especially this one! I will have to take this list with me next time I go to the grocery store. Thank you! -Samantha