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Choose Your Organic Food Wisely: Pesticide-laden Fruits & Vegetables Are Unhealthy

written by: Steve Graham • edited by: Rhonda Callow • updated: 5/19/2011

Choose your organic food wisely. Save your family money while protecting their health by buying organic varieties of five pesticide-heavy fruits and vegetables. Also find five conventional fruits and vegetables without much chemical risk.

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    What Organic Food Should You Buy?

    Every health magazine and environmental group tells us to buy organic food, but you’ve probably noticed organic food is far more expensive. The earth will thank you for always buying organic food. However, you bank account will thank you if you intelligently select your organic produce.

    Here’s how to keep your family healthy by selecting organic produce when buying the most pesticide-heavy fruits and vegetables. I’ll also list a few fruits and vegetables that shouldn’t impact your health too much if you choose conventional alternatives.

    First, some organic food rules, and how organic produce differs from conventional produce. The United States Department of Agriculture has a complex and somewhat controversial certification process for organic food producers and farms. For the most part, organic produce must be grown from non-genetically modified seeds without the use of a specific list of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Similar rules apply in many other countries.

    The Environmental Working Group lists the following fruits and vegetables among those with the highest levels of pesticides. These are the most important organic food choices. This is a selected five of the top ten, but I chose them because they are really popular or especially hard to rid of pesticides.

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    Top 5 Foods You Should Buy Organically

    1. Peaches – It’s not just the Allman Brothers Band who want to eat a peach. Plenty of bugs want to munch on these sweet, thin-skinned, fragile fruit. It takes a heavy load of pesticides to keep them growing. The EWG found 45 pesticides on peaches, including chemicals that may damage the reproductive, nervous and immune systems, according to high-profile pediatrician Alan Greene. Some combination of these chemicals were used on 94 percent of conventional peaches they tested. Peaches are probably the single most important organic food choice.

    2. Apples – This is another sweet fruit that takes a lot of pesticides to grow. Many of the same pesticides are used on peaches and apples, with up to 36 different chemicals on 91 percent of apples tested. There is also wax and other chemical additives on many apples, unless you focus on organics.

    3. Strawberries — The numbers tell almost the same story for a smaller red fruit. Pesticides, in 36 varieties, were found on 90 percent of tested strawberries. Also, those little dimples all over your pretty strawberries make it really hard to wash off all these chemicals. Another key organic food choice.

    4. Bell peppers – Vegetables aren’t immune from the pesticide scourge. The EWG found 39 varieties of pesticide on sweet bell peppers, with 68 percent of the colorful vegetables contaminated.

    5. Spinach — Popeye and your mom told you to eat your spinach and other leafy greens. However, you best seek out organic options. Again, 36 varieties of pesticide were found on spinach, with 83 percent of spinach testing positive.

    Extra credit if you know the common factor in all these pesticide-heavy fruits and vegetables. You’re right if you said thin skin or no skin. Critters get into these fruits and vegetables as easily as your teeth. To make matters worse, the minimal skin means more pesticides seep into the heart of your fruits and vegetables.

    So you’re right if you guessed that thick-skinned fruits and vegetables are among the safest conventional fruit, using the smallest amount of pesticides.

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    Safest Conventional Fruits & Vegetables

    These fruits and vegetables require relatively few unhealthy pesticides, so it’s safer to buy the conventional varieties and avoiding the organic food premium.

    1. Avocados — If you make guacamole, you’ve probably struggled with scooping green avocado pulp out of the thick dark skins. These skins also protect avocados from pests, reducing the need for pesticides. It's a good thing these green treats aren't organic food necessities. They're already so expensive.

    2. Bananas — Could bananas be any more perfect? They’re a tasty, nutritional, energy-packed snack in their own sturdy packaging. So stock up and save by getting conventional bananas. No need to pay more for smaller bananas from the organic food section.

    3. Papayas — It’s no mistake that papaya skins feel somewhat like avocado skins. They have similarly minimal pesticides. No need for organic food options here.

    4. Pineapples — I wouldn’t want to tackle spiky, spiny pineapples without a sharp knife. Neither would pests. Pineapples are at the bottom of the pesticide list. Like avocados, pineapples are pretty pricey outside of Hawaii, so some organic food savings are in order.

    5. Broccoli — Just to show that every rule is made to be broken, healthy broccoli can be grown without many pesticides despite a lack of protective skin. Maybe bugs are as averse to broccoli as most kids. Your children may still reject the conventional broccoli, but at least you're not throwing out expensive organic food.

    Finally, depending on your climate and the season, I recommend getting all your fruits and vegetables — even the low-pesticide varieties — from a local farmers market, cooperative or community-supported farm. These small farms may not be certified as organic food producers. They maybe didn’t want to go through the expensive and complex USDA process, but you can do one better. You’ll typically meet actual farmers and ask them exactly what pesticides, etc., are used on the farm. Check out this Bright Hub article for more on community-supported farms and organic food.