Smart shopping tips for choosing organic fruits and vegetables

Smart shopping tips for choosing organic fruits and vegetables

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What makes fruits and vegetables "organic?"

"Organic produce" refers to fruits and vegetables grown without the use of most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, as well as irradiation, sewage sludge (used for fertilizer), and genetic modification. Research shows that pesticide exposure can contribute to a wide range of health problems, and eating organic versions of foods can reduce your exposure.

Organic foods tend to be more expensive due to higher production costs, and they're not always widely available.

When should I buy organic?

You might want to buy organic versions of the fruits and vegetables that have high levels of pesticides when grown conventionally, especially if your family eats them often. But you can save money by buying conventionally grown produce that's lower in pesticide levels.

Many parents look to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to help them make their shopping decisions. A nonprofit organization, EWG publishes an annual list known as the Dirty Dozen: 12 foods found to have the highest levels of pesticides. It also provides a list of 15 foods with the lowest levels of pesticides called the Clean Fifteen. These lists are based on test results from the United States Department of Agriculture. (See the 2019 lists below.)

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that the lower pesticide levels in organic foods may make a difference in developing children, but there isn't enough research to show whether an organic diet means better health in the long run. So you may want to buy organic produce when you can – especially when it comes to the Dirty Dozen – but if you can't, don't worry.

According to the AAP, it isn't a good idea to skip conventionally grown produce in order to avoid pesticide exposure, because giving your child a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is more important to your child's health than choosing between conventional and organic foods.

Produce with high levels of pesticides

The EWG’s Dirty Dozen list contains the fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide. The produce was washed and peeled before testing (washing removes some but not all pesticide residue). The Dirty Dozen in 2019 are:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

A word about hot peppers: If you or your child eats a lot of them, the EWG recommends that you buy the organic version. Certain highly toxic insecticides have been found in hot peppers – this may be because they aren't subject to the same insecticide bans as other crops.

Produce with low levels of pesticides

The EWG’s Clean Fifteen list in 2019 contains the fruits and vegetables with the lowest levels of pesticides:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Frozen sweet peas
  5. Onions
  6. Papayas
  7. Eggplants
  8. Asparagus
  9. Kiwis
  10. Cabbages
  11. Cauliflower
  12. Cantaloupes
  13. Broccoli
  14. Mushrooms
  15. Honeydew melons

How to minimize pesticide exposure

In addition to purchasing organic produce – through your grocery store, local farmers' market, or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box – here are some ways to reduce pesticides in your diet:

  • Eat a wide variety of produce to minimize exposure from a single source.
  • Wash or peel fruits and vegetables before eating them. This also helps get rid of bacteria and other organisms that could cause food poisoning.
  • Discard the leafy outer layer of leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce.
  • Grow some of your own produce without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.

Learn more:

Watch the video: How to Buy Organic: Which Foods Should I Choose? (May 2022).

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