I’m an advocate of buying organic food. However, I’m also aware of the fact that most items are more expensive than non-organic. So, which foods can you get away with buying non-organic, and which ones are a must?
I recently attended the annual Whole Foods Expo in Toronto and picked up a list from the Environmental Working Group (www.foodnews.org) of produce that is recommended to buy organic because they contain the most chemicals. I combined their list with the list from my textbook so it’s actually a baker’s dirty dozen (13):
The Baker’s Dirty Dozen:
- Berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries & strawberries): strawberries are the most heavily contaminated product in North America (Pesticide Action Network North America)
- Apples: start thinking, “an organic apple a day keeps the doctor away”
- Stone fruits (peaches, cherries, plums & nectarines): their skins are very absorbent so the chemicals seep inside the fruit
- Leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard greens & lettuces): chemicals are sprayed right onto the leaves
- Bell peppers: along with the presence of pesticides; peppers are often waxed to make them shiny & more appealing to purchase in stores. This wax makes it difficult to remove the pesticides and there are also chemicals within the wax.
- Grapes: the ones that are imported contain a very high percentage (79%) of pesticides because grapes spoil easily. They are sprayed to prevent the growth of molds and fungus.
- Celery: dangerous carcinogenic pesticides are often used on celery
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage): it’s ironic because these veggies have cancer fighting vitamins, but if you’re consuming the non-organic variety, the pesticides that are sprayed on them are cancer causing
- Tropical fruits (pineapples, mangos & papayas) and imported produce: cantaloupes for example have a high level of pesticides
- Cucumbers: they contain a potent pesticide called dieldrin, which increases the risk of cancer
- Green beans
- Corn products
I also always buy the bags of large organic carrots. They are only $2.99/bag and I find they taste so much better and you don’t have to worry about peeling them. Just wash and enjoy!
I wanted to include the EWG’s Cleanest 12 list, but I found a few inconsistencies with what I’ve learned. A good rule of thumb: if you’re buying regular produce; choose options that have a thick skin, which protects the inside from toxic chemicals. The safer choices are:
- Sweet Corn – frozen
- Sweet peas – frozen
- Citrus fruits
If you’re still on the fence or you only make the switch to organic for some of the dirty dozen; make sure to wash everything very well. You can use vinegar water or there are some good vegetable washes available at the grocery store.
Another time to buy regular produce is during the spring & summer months when Canada has a wide variety of local fresh produce.
I love this post Lauren! So informative! What about banannas though? I’ve always wondered about these b/c they have thick skin, but are also imported… so I’m not sure what chemincals are being used.
Great question Holly! Unfortunately all produce that is non-organic, especially those that are imported are sprayed with pesticides. And even fruit or veg with thick skin can have traces of pesticides inside. I would say if you’re going organic, why not go all the way, and organic bananas are not much more expensive than regular. That being said, organic options aren’t always available, and in that case I would stick to the safer produce (those with thick skin) when buying non-organic.
Great post Lauren! It is scary though! It seems like most things I eat are on the dirty dozen list!!
It’s true! After learning about the pesticides that are on non-organic produce I’ve made the switch, and I haven’t really noticed a big change on my grocery bill. I now buy organic spinach, carrots, tomatoes and apples, which aren’t very expensive!
Wow this is a great resource.. I’m enjoying it.. good article
Very interesting about berries being so high in contaminates. It certainly makes you think before you buy. I wonder if “prewashed” vegetables have less contaminates. Lauren, it’s good to have the dirty dozen (13) list to refer to when I’m shopping. Thank you. Another question; what about mushrooms? Are mushrooms organic or are they filled with pesticides?
Great questions Cynthia. I’m not sure if pre-washed produce has less contaminates, but I would guess that they are washed really well. Some of the packages say ‘triple-washed’ for example. I know that when I used to buy non-organic I definitely didn’t do the best job of washing – I would do more of a rinse. If you have to buy non-organic I think choosing a pre-washed option is a safer bet than doing it yourself.
Organic mushrooms are definitely an option and are safer than non-organic. You would think because mushrooms are so absorbent that they would be one of the worst in terms of pesticides, but they are more mid-range. Organic is always safer, but it can be difficult to find a grocery store that has a good variety of organic options. One thing that I am currently researching is an organic delivery service. There are many options in Toronto that deliver fresh boxes of organic produce and other items (dairy, meat, cereal), and are quite reasonably priced. One company I’m looking at charges $43 for a custom box for two people. This should last about two weeks and you can choose what you want. I think this could be a good option if you want to make the switch to organic for most of your food. I’ll do some more research and get back to you!
This website is great!!! Quick question – what is the best way to keep all the goodness and vitamins in frozen peas? Grace is just starting to eat food, and peas are on the list, but I want to make sure she’s getting all the good vitamins? Is it ok to just boil them in water?
Thanks Andrea! Great question! Unfortunately, most of the time boiling raw veggies removes most of their vitamins & minerals (tomatoes are an exception; tomato sauce has the same nutrients as raw tomatoes). However, steaming vegetables is a great option, and helps retain some of their vitamins. I have a pot that came with a steamer (it just fits on top). Bring about 2 cups of water to a boil, put the veggies in the steamer, place on top of the boiling water pot, put a lid on it and steam for a couple minutes. Because she’s a baby you may have to steam them for a bit longer so they’re soft enough, but it’s still a better option than boiling in terms of retaining the peas’ nutrients. This is a great way to cook broccoli as well!