Dirty Dozen

Shopping Organic: When is it Necessary?

When to go organic...

I think that the first line of defense when it comes to eating fruits and vegetables is... you guessed it, actually eating them.  About 12% of American adults are eating the recommended 2 cups of fruits daily and 18% of American adults are eating the recommended 3 cups of vegetables daily (based on NHANES data).  It looks like we have a little bit of work to do.

Now that said, there is a growing market for organic, pesiticide-free, preservative-free, locally-grown, and/or grown with sustainable agriculture practices.  We eat for a lot of different reasons and one of them is certainly ingredient quality.  The Environmental Working Group reveals that we can reduce pesticide intake by approximately 80% by eliminating the twelve fruits/vegetables with the highest rate of pesticides.  

This is especially important for parents to employ with their growing children as the intake of chemicals is higher per kilogram for children.  That difference in concentration in the body can have an impact on health.

Take Home Messages

  • If you can afford it, and if it matters to you, try to select organic alternatives for the 'Dirty Dozen'.  
  • Don't waste your food dollars on buying organic for the 'Clean Fifteen'.  
  • Always wash your fresh produce.
  • Label-reading Tip: PLU codes found on the produce reveal growing practice
    • 4-digit code = conventionally grown
    • 5-digit code starting with 8 = Genetically Modified Organism
    • 5-digit code starting with 9 = Organic

The Dirty Dozen

  • celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, sweet bell peppers, spinach, kale and collard greens, cherries, potatoes, grapes, lettuce

 The Clean Fifteen

  • onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mango, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwi fruit, cabbage, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, sweet potatoes, sweet onion

The Dirty Dozen

Mmmm... Those Pesticides are Quite Delicious

I think it's pretty common knowledge nowadays that all of our fruits and veggies are grown with pesticides and chemicals so that they are protected as they grow (often yielding more crop for the farmer).  On top of that our fruits and veggies may often be genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or genetically altered to grow to very large proportions.  Ever been amazed by the size of certain fruit and veggies?  It must be something in the water... 

Pesticides have become a very salacious component to the organics debate.  What fruits and veggies are most affected by these chemicals and which are not?  Well next time you're shopping for fruits and veggies bring this list with you and you'll know where to spend your organic dollars and where you can stick to conventionally grown foods.

The Dirty Dozen

These are the foods that have been researched to have the most pesticides on them that don't wash off.  Try to buy these as organics and if you buy conventional try to wash them very thoroughly.  

  • PeachImage courtesy of a Sampeson Blog
  • Apple
  • Bell Pepper
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Grapes
  • Carrot
  • Pear

The Clean Fifteen

These food are the lowest in pesticides.  But you should still wash them (where applicable)!

  • Onion
  • Avocado
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet Peas
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Papaya
  • Watermelon
  • Broccoli
  • Tomato
  • Sweet Potato

Hope this helps next time you're questioning the value of organics in the grocery store!  There's even an iPhone application put out by the Environment Working Group so you always have the information on the go.  And remember, for farmer's markets and CSAs just ask about growing practices.  

Happy Shopping!