The 12 Foods You Should ALWAYS Buy Organic

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_MG_6467_r_RubyYehPhotographed By Ruby Yeh.
To buy the organic apples for, say, $2.34 per pound, or choose the conventional ones for $1.49? I've fought this internal debate on nearly every grocery trip of my adult life, and sometimes I frustratingly admit my wallet just won't allow for going 100% farm-fresh. Sure, research shows the benefits of organic food often outweigh the costs of non-organic over a lifetime, but 23-year-old me can’t always think that far into the future. Enter the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen,” — two lists of produce deemed the least and most safe according to their relative pesticides exposure — and the ultimate guide to sometimes buying organic.

Compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the Dirty Dozen shows there can be some pretty scary stuff on that apple, while the Clean Fifteen demonstrates healthy eating doesn’t always have to be as expensive as it’s sometimes made out to be. Though co-ops and some CSAs can help cut costs, they don't help the fact that unless you're growing your own, you really don't know what's coming along with that tempting fruit or veggie.

Now in its tenth year, the lists draw from 32,000 samples of 48 popular produce items tested by USDA and FDA scientists. Some "dirty" items were found to contain up to fifteen different pesticides, whereas the only 5.5% of the Clean Fifteen samples had two or more pesticides present. Rather not commit those stats to memory? These lists make a bookmark-worthy cheat sheet for simplifying your shopping choices.

The Dirty Dozen (Better To Buy 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


The Clean Fifteen (Save Money, Buy Conventional)
1. Avocados
2. Sweet Corn
3. Pineapples
4. Cabbage
5. Sweet Peas (Frozen)
6. Onions
7. Asparagus
8. Mangoes
9. Papayas
10. Kiwi
11. Eggplant
12. Grapefruit
13. Cantaloupe
14. Cauliflower
15. Sweet Potatoes

Check out the EWG's full rankings to see which items land somewhere between the two lists, or read on for more insight into the produce problem.
_MG_6442_r_RubyYehPhotographed By Ruby Yeh.


You may have been under the impression that thicker skins — for instance, the substantial, spiky rind on pineapples — mean fewer pesticides reach the edible stuff, but these lists show that’s not always the case. Nevertheless, it’s nice to know there are some conventionally grown crops the EWG considers plenty safe to purchase. (Side note: The jury’s still out on whether or not an organic label equals nutritionally superior food.)

While pesticides increase production, help stock supermarket shelves with high-quality food (free of blemishes and contamination), decrease cost to the consumer, and even protect us from some insect-carrying diseases, studies show they are toxic to the nervous system. They've been linked to serious health problems, including Parkinson’s disease, poisoning, and cancerous tumors. After all, they are designed to destroy living things, such as insects, weeds, and fungi, that may get in the way of producing an abundant yield.

Chemicals found in pesticides can be a danger to our health, but that doesn’t mean we’ve been handed a free pass to not eat our fruits and vegetables. The dirty dozen is certainly not meant to push consumers away from the produce section but, rather, according to the EWG, to “fill the void left by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has largely failed to tell Americans they have a right to know about the risks of pesticide exposure and ways they can reduce pesticides in their diets.” With knowledge of each year’s list, consumers can choose to lower pesticide intake simply by avoiding the most contaminated fruits and vegetables when an all-organic diet may be out of reach.

How does this information impact your own shopping habits? Are you an avid clean-fifteen, conventional buyer? Or is it organic all the way?