Here’s When To Buy—And When To Skip—Organic Foods

Follow the "Dirty Dozen" rule.


Photo by: Kentaroo Tryman

Kentaroo Tryman

You’re staring at strawberries in the grocery store with every intention of buying the organic ones for your sweet little munchkin. But you can’t help noticing that the non-organically grown strawberries cost significantly less. The little voice in your head that just paid this month’s bills whispers to you, "Come on, there can’t really be that much of a difference between organic and conventional. You grew up on non-organic strawberries, and you’re doing just fine!"

While every parent wants to do what’s best for their kids, the truth is that many of us find ourselves choosing between sticking to a grocery budget and buying organic — which can often break that budget. Thankfully, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases two annual lists that can help you decide when buying organic is really important and when they can let it slide.

One list, dubbed the Dirty Dozen, points out the top 12 fruits and vegetables found to have the most pesticides on them — even after washing.

"The main route of pesticide exposure for most Americans who do not live or work on or near farms is through their diet," said EWG Research Analyst Carla Burns. "Studies have shown that eating fruits and vegetables free of pesticides benefits health, and this is especially important for pregnant women and children."

Indeed, the American Academy of Pediatricians Council on Environmental Health cautioned that "children’s exposure to pesticides should be as limited as possible, because pesticide exposure during pregnancy and early childhood increases the risk of brain tumors, leukemia, neurodevelopmental defects and other adverse birth outcomes."

Here is this year’s Dirty Dozen:

  1. Strawberries

  2. Spinach

  3. Kale

  4. Nectarines

  5. Apples

  6. Grapes

  7. Peaches

  8. Cherries

  9. Pears

  10. Tomatoes

  11. Celery

  12. Potatoes

Note that kale, the green-of-the-moment thanks to chefs and health-conscious diets like keto and Whole 30, appears third on the list.

"In USDA’s most recent round of tests, more than 92 percent of conventionally grown kale samples had at least two or more pesticide residues," the EWG said. "Some samples contained residues from as many as 18 different pesticides."

On the flip side, the organization also called out what it considers to be the Clean 15. Here’s this year’s list, featuring produce that registered "relatively few pesticides."

Clean 15:

  1. Avocados

  2. Sweet corn

  3. Pineapples

  4. Frozen peas

  5. Onions

  6. Papayas

  7. Eggplant

  8. Asparagus

  9. Kiwis

  10. Cabbages

  11. Cauliflower

  12. Cantaloupes

  13. Broccoli

  14. Mushrooms

  15. Honeydew melons

If you’re still not convinced, check out EWG’s shopper’s guide, which cites many studies backing up the idea that eating less pesticides decreases chances of getting cancer and other illnesses, including fertility issues.

Whether or not you ultimately choose to go with organically or conventionally grown produce depends on many factors, but experts say you should continue to load up on fruits and veggies — no matter how they’re grown.

"The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure," Burns said.

And don’t forget to keep washing those fruits and veggies with cool, drinkable water, as recommended by the Food and Drug Administration.


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