When Organic Produce Pays Off

Organic vs. Conventional - How do you choose?
Organic vs. conventional – Is is worth the price?

Fresh fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber and a special treat at any time of year.  However, fruits consistently top the list of produce that are most contaminated by pesticides.

Buying pesticide-free produce is the best choice, but they’re generally more costly or may be unavailable. Knowing when it’s smart to buy organic and when to go conventional, you’ll save yourself some extra money.   

The Organic Marketplace

The world organic food market has increased at a rate of 20% per year since the early 1990’s making organic food more available and less expensive to consumers.  But growing produce without pesticides takes more time and money.

Nutritional Value of Organic Produce

Studies conducted by researchers from the Department of Human Nutrition at the University of Copenhagen suggest that there are no nutritional differences between produce grown organically and those grown conventionally. Both foodstuffs were found to contain the same amount of major and trace elements.

Pesticide Toxicity

A growing number of scientists are in agreement that the chemical pesticides designed to kill insects and fungi on fruits and vegetables can have lasting effects on your health.  Even small doses can damage living cells and are linked to toxic effects.

Can You Peel or Wash Off Pesticides?

Strawberries_WikimPD
Always wash produce thoroughly

Washing can reduce pesticide residues but cannot completely eliminate them.  Peeling may help, but it removes the valuable nutrients and fiber in the skin. Always clean your produce before eating, cutting, or cooking to remove soil particles and possible bacteria, viruses, or parasites.

To thoroughly wash produce:

  1. Rinse them in clean cold running water.
  2. Scrub gently with a natural bristle vegetable brush.
  3. Rinse well.
  4. Do leave them soaking in water.  Fruits and vegetables contain water-soluble vitamins.  That is, soaking dissolves valuable nutrients that end up in your drain instead of in you.
  5. Dry with a clean cloth or paper towel to help reduce bacteria that may still be present.

Fruit and Veggie Washes – Are they Effective?

Save your money. The use of produce treatments/rinses has not been proven to be more effective that clean cold running water or distilled white vinegar. The FDA advises against the use of these products since their safety and effectiveness have not been tested or standardized. See Guide to Washing Fresh Produce (Colorado State University). 

When to Buy Organic

peach parfait
Peaches, cherries and strawberries have high pesticide residues

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) evaluated 50 different types of produce ranking them by their pesticide load.  Some fruits and vegetables are more heavily sprayed than others.  If cost is an issue, consider buying organic when shopping for the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. See the complete list: EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

The following are known as EWG’s currently ranked  “Dirty Dozen”.  Strawberries were tested to be the most contaminated produce followed by apples and nectarines.

  1. Strawberries (WORST)
  2. Apples
  3. Nectarines
  4. Peaches
  5. Celery
  6. Grapes
  7. Cherries
  8. Spinach
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Sweet bell peppers
  11. Cherry tomatoes
  12. Cucumbers
  13. Snap peas – imported
  14. Blueberries – domestic
  15. Potatoes
  16. Hot peppers
  17. Lettuce
  18. Kale / collard greens
  19. Blueberries – imported
  20. Green beans
  21. Plums
  22. Pears
  23. Raspberries
  24. Carrots
  25. Winter squash
  26. Tangerines
  27. Summer squash*
  28. Snap peas – domestic
  29. Green onions
  30. Bananas
  31. Oranges
  32. Watermelon
  33. Broccoli
  34. Sweet potatoes
  35. Mushrooms

When to Buy Conventional

Non-organic onions have the least pesticide residues
Conventional onions have the least pesticide residues

When buying less expensive conventionally-farmed produce, shop for the least contaminated fruits and vegetables known as EWG’s “Clean Fifteen”:

  1. Avocados (BEST)
  2. Sweet corn* 
  3. Pineapples 
  4. Cabbage
  5. Sweet peas (frozen)
  6. Onions
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangos
  9. Papayas*
  10. Kiwi
  11. Eggplant
  12. Honeydew melon
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Cantaloupe
  15. Cauliflower

*Per the EWG: A small amount of sweet corn, papaya and summer squash sold in the U.S. is produced from genetically engineered (GE) feedstock. If you want to avoid GE produce, buy organic varieties of these crops.

Apple c heart symbol_40x54Fit Tip: Maximize living well while minimizing the cost.  If possible, shop at your neighborhood Farmers’ Market where produce is freshly picked (most nutritious) and you can ask local growers how their fruits and vegetables are farmed.  Eat a diet that includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and clean all produce thoroughly.

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