You’ve probably already heard the many reasons for choosing organic foods. Organic foods are free of harmful chemicals, have more nutrients and better flavor, and help keep harmful agricultural pesticides and fertilizers out of our water. Yet, buying all organic produce can put a serious dent in your wallet. Here’s a quick guide to common items that you should buy organic and ones that will still be healthy choices even if not organic.
What to Buy Organic
In general, foods with thin skins—or skins that are commonly eaten—are good candidates for buying organic.
1. Strawberries. Strawberries have a large surface area. Combined with all the tiny bumps on that surface, it is quite hard to truly wash pesticides off. Similarly, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, apples, cherries, grapes, peaches, nectarines and pears are usually eaten with their skins on. The non-organic versions will have been treated with multiple pesticides when being grown.
2. Milk. About 17% of dairy cows are treated with the hormone rBST (or rBGH), which increases a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). An elevation IGF-1 in humans has been associated with an increased risk of cancer. It’s not clear if milk from cows treated with rBST elevates IGF-1 in humans, but be on the safe side and pick up milk that’s labeled rBGH-free, rBST-free, or is produced without artificial hormones.
3. Celery. Like fruits, celery ranks high in contamination from pesticides. Celery stalks are very porous, so they retain the pesticides they’re sprayed with. Other common vegetables that scored high in pesticides include bell peppers, spinach and potatoes.
4. Beef. As with milk, hormones given to cattle have been tied to cancer in humans. Buy beef that’s been certified organic by the USDA.
5. Leafy greens. As with fruits that are eaten with their skins on, spinach, lettuce, kale and mustard greens are sprayed with numerous pesticides. Like celery, the pesticides can seep into leaves where it is impossible to remove.
6. Potatoes and carrots. Even though potatoes and carrots are grown underground, they still contain high amounts of pesticides. In 2006, the USDA found that 81% of potatoes contained pesticides even after being washed and peeled. Carrots are similar.
What Not to Buy Organic
In general, food items that have thick skins are good candidates for buying in their non-organic form. Interestingly, tomatoes are no longer ranked high in pesticides but many people still buy them in the organic form.
1. Avocados. Avocados are the perfect example of a thick-skinned vegetable that can safely be bought conventionally. To be extra safe, wash the skin before cutting into it.
2. Bananas. Tough peels on some fruits absorb much of the pesticide used. If you discard the peel, the remaining food has less pesticide residue. Bananas are one of the few fruits that are safe to eat in the conventional form. As with avocados, you can scrub them before eating to help keep any contaminants on the peel from spreading to the edible part. Non-organic kiwi, pineapples, papayas, melons, grapefruit and mangoes are also safe to eat.
3. Broccoli and cabbage. Non-organic broccoli is safe to eat either raw or cooked after being washed well as is cabbage. This is because these plants are generally treated with nontoxic biological controls since the moths who eat these vegetables grew a resistance to the pesticides.
4. Peas. Thanks to their hard shell, peas are mostly protected from pesticides. Still, it’s always best to rinse them before preparing.
5. Asparagus. This vegetable grows so fast that the bugs don’t have much chance to bother it so it is very lightly treated. Wash it thoroughly to be safe.
6. Corn. Another vegetable that is wrapped in a protective layer, corn is safe to eat in its non-organic form.
7. Garlic and onions. Both garlic and onions have removable skins to protect them. Plus, bugs don’t bother these plants much so they are lightly treated.
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