The Most Important Foods to Buy Organic

Kara Bauer Health Guide
  • With the price of organic foods being significantly higher than that of conventional foods, many people ask themselves if buying organic is worth the extra cost. Although the conclusions drawn from a recent anaylsis published by Stanford University indicated that the nutritional value of organic is the same as conventional foods [1] (which is by no means conclusive and has many experts in disagreement), it’s up to each of us to use our common sense to determine whether ingesting pesticides has a negative impact on our health. Even though I believe that money spent now saves money in the future for healthcare, there are people who prefer to only purchase organic where it’s absolutely necessary. Thankfully, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out an annual “dirty dozen” list in which they share the foods with the highest pesticide residue to help us with our shopping. By adhering to their recommendations, each of us can reduce our pesticide exposure by 80%, eliminating the health risks that toxins may produce.[2]

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    As a reminder, when something is labeled organic, it means that certain production standards have been met eliminating the use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, pesticides and other food production techniques that may harm our environment and health over both the short and long-term. The labeling guidelines for organic foods are as follows: 


    -Only foods that are 95-100% organic are allowed to carry the USDA certified organic label.

    -A company or producer cannot falsely claim to be 100% organic if they are not.

    -If 70-94% of the ingredients are organic, a company cannot use the USDA seal, but can state that their product is “made with organic ingredients”.

    -If less than 70% of the ingredients are organic, the company or producer cannot use the seal or label the food organic in any form. However, they can indicate which ingredients are organic in the ingredients list on the package.[3]


    Keep in mind that the organic certification costs money and it is possible that small- scale producers are adhering to organic requirements, but not able to certify themselves as such. In addition to protecting the environmental issues associated with importing and long-distance travel, farmer’s markets and co-ops are an ideal opportunity to communicate directly with the producers to ensure that standards are being met.


    So which foods does the EWG recommend we always buy organic? The EWG ranks pesticide contamination for 45 popular fruits and vegetables based on over 60,000 samples taken over the past 10 years by the USDA and FDA. To account for scientific error, they use a variety of different measures of pesticide contamination after the vegetables have been washed and peeled (in almost all cases). The top 12 most conventionally produced, contaminated foods in this year’s study (2012), also called “The Dirty Dozen”, are the following:


    1. apples

    2. celery

    3. bell peppers

    4. peaches

    5. strawberries

  • 6. nectarines

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    7. grapes

    8. spinach

    9. lettuce

    10. cucumbers

    11. blueberries

    12. potatoes


    They also added two additional foods that were highly contaminated with insecticides, but didn’t meet the dirty dozen list.


    13. kale/collard greens

    14. green beans


    Again, in order to decrease your toxic load, its recommended that the above foods only be purchased organic.


    The “clean” foods, which tested very little or at zero for pesticide residues and therefore can safely be purchased by conventional producers are:


    Fruits: Avocado, banana, pineapple, kiwi, mango, papaya, grapefruit, cantaloupe and watermelon


    Vegetables: Asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, onions, eggplant, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, sweet peas and sweet corn*


    *Even though corn is not heavily contaminated with pesticides, only non-GMO, organic corn is recommended. Even if its not labeled non-GMO, corn cannot carry the organic label if it has been grown using genetically modified seeds.[2]


    Additionally, many health experts recommend that you only purchase organic soy (non GMO), dairy products and grass fed/free range meat products, which are said to have a higher nutrient content in addition to less toxins.


    [1] Mercola, J. (2012, September 17). Organic foods are safer and healthier than conventional true or false? Retrieved from


    [2] (n.d.) Retrieved from


    [3] (n.d.) Retrieved from


Published On: March 17, 2013