Frugal Shopping: Which Vegetables Should You Buy Organic?

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There are many reasons why people buy organics vegetables, and one of them is to avoid ingesting pesticides. While the benefits are not entirely proven, it is clear that buying organic can be pretty pricey – Whole Foods grocery is even dubbed “Whole Paycheck” for this reason. As found in Money magazine, the Environmental Working Group has a Shopper’s Guide that helps identify the fruits and veggies with the most and least pesticides if you are faced with balancing the cost and benefits of buying organic. The top and bottom 12 are listed on the right.

An EWG simulation of thousands of consumers eating high and low pesticide diets shows that people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 90 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead… soft-skinned fruits and veggies, like peaches, apples and bell peppers, retain the most amount of pesticides… Nearly all of the data used to create these lists already considers how people typically wash and prepare produce (for example, apples are washed before testing, bananas are peeled).

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  1. what are the effects of pesticides in your diet? is there a study that shows how it is harmful?

    Although I do eat all of that produce that is high in pesticides, I don’t eat them daily… I wonder if that makes a difference.

  2. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by organic (I think that isn’t a well-defined term). But I’d be wanting to buy my lettuce, for example, from a place that used commercial non-organic fertilizer.

    As I understand it, you don’t want to use manure on crops that grow on the ground like lettuce.

    Personally, I suspect you’d be better not worrying about the whole pesticide thing. I suppose it is all a probability thing, but probably the low levels of pesticides in your food aren’t hurting you at all. Almost certainly it’s hurting your wallet to buy organic.

    Perhaps I’m jaded because I grew up on a farm, but in my mind organic food is just another kind designer food. Skip the designer clothes, and skip the designer food.

    I approach it more like salmon. Health and diet books all go on and on about how good salmon is for your health. Good for your heart and such because of its omega-3 content. But it also has a tendency to be high in mercury which is not good, and Consumer Reports suggests you limit your consumption.

    So that’s what I do. I eat salmon because I like it and it is good for you. But I also don’t eat it every day.

    So, put some green leaf lettuce in a small garden. It is cheap, it usually grows very easily and you have more lettuce than you can eat (during the growing season). Plant a bell pepper plant; easy to grow and bell peppers freeze well. If you have room when you buy a property, put in a couple of your favorite apple trees (it takes two of different varieties to cross-pollinate) and have apples in season for years.

    Other times of the year, go sparingly on the most contaminated foods and don’t sweat it.

  3. I’ve always wondered if it was more important to save money now on buying produce cheaply or if it was more important to save money on potential health problems in the future by buying organic. Since I haven’t heard anything solid about the latter, I think I’ll continue to buy produce as cheaply as possible.

  4. some info from same site about why to reduce pesticide intake

    It seems like it’s more important for younger children and babies.

    I have my own theories about this stuff, but I’ll keep them to myself. I agree that keeping everything in moderation is best. In the end, eating any fresh vegetable, organic or not, from the grocery store is better than buying a Big Mac.

  5. Organic food = designer food? Hardly…

    Actually, the “cheap” fruits and veggies that are treated with pesticides should be considered “designer foods”, because they are being artificially altered / designed. All for maximizing profits of course.

    That’s the point behind organic foods, not to chemically alter them in any way.

    I don’t think, that you will get sick from non-organic foods, but considering that we already put so much crap into our body, it doesn’t hurt to take it easy on the chemicals.

    And looking at the overweight population in Western countries, it wouldn’t hurt for people to skip on the junk food and to eat more fruits and veggies, even if they are full of pesticides…

  6. Aside from the pesticides and chemicals, organic produce that’s grown locally is fresher, has more nutrients, and the right balance of nutrients for your area.

    WRT spending, the problem is that most of the stuff at Whole Foods is really various “gourmet health”, which is where shoppers splurge. Stick to the boring organic vegetables and staples and your budget will be safe. This also applies to conventional stores.

  7. Don’t forget frozen. People often focus on fresh vegetables, but I’m pretty sure I’ve read that in many cases frozen vegetables are better for you. The reason is that they are frozen soon after harvest, before the quality has degraded.

    Not every dish is the same made from frozen produce as from fresh, but many would be just as good. Something to consider.

    As for designer/gourmet/whatever, you can declare a food treated with pesticide as “designer” but I’m not persuaded. To me, the label designer is a question of brand. People buy designer jeans for the brand. I’m happy to substitute the word gourmet if you like.

    For me, the point is that calling something organic is a kind of branding. You are able to get people to spend more on something organic, and it isn’t clear (to me) that there is a corresponding increase in quality.

  8. I had to smile when I saw this post. I’m not a big fan of organic – it seems like something that can be twisted to make more money for folks, just like supplements. If you want organic, grow your own in a window (if you don’t have any land) – that seems like the best way to do it. Anyway, the post made me think of this site. I hope you enjoy it…. I did!

  9. Although the pesticide in the produce are insignificant in amount, consider consuming them for a whole lifetime. These things accumulate in your body. I am not a doctor so I am not sure whether our body is able to remove the toxin naturally.

  10. Another idea to limit the possible effects of pesticides is to eat a wide variety of different produce. Apparently growers tend to use different kinds of pesticides for different crops. Since “the danger is in the dosage”, it has been claimed that eating, for example, 5 different kinds of fruits/veggies rather than the same amount of just one fruit/veggie, will tend to reduce the amount of each of the different pesticides, perhaps reducing them below a threshold at which they could be harmful.

    This is not an area of my expertise, so I can’t say for sure whether this is true, but intuitively it does seem to make some sense. I’m just repeating information I read in a book called “The Color Code”, which by the way, is a great read.

    At any rate, eating a wide variety of foods is unlikely to be a bad move regardless of motive, so I suppose it can’t hurt.

  11. Nony-mouse says

    can we do a comparison with cigarattes? Marlboro lights is NOT any safer than Marlboro reds.

    I am not going to pay $4 for organic eggs when $1 eggs seem fine. I dont care if the chickens were kept in a cage, caught in the alaskan wild, fed vegetarian burgers, are still virgins etc….

    If eating organic food is important, then one should NEVER eat out. I had a boss who eats very very very healthy food only, ie: non pasteurised milk, raw fish etc…..and she has tons of health problems.

  12. Pesticides themselves may be harmful, but not in the amounts any normal person would get from fruits.

    Fruits have tons of other “natural” chemicals that would harm you in high enough doses. That doesn’t mean eating them is bad.

    For example, fruits have lots of carcinogens. Yummy. Yet eating fruits regularly can greatly reduce your risk of cancer.

  13. Also, organic foods can certainly be altered chemically or through other means. The only restriction is that it can’t be using synthetic chemicals.

    I don’t see why “natural” pesticides are necessarily better than synthetic ones?

  14. goldnsilver says

    another ting to consider is whether the “organic” food was produced locally or not. If it were grown organically, but it was transported overnight in an air carrier, to me that’s not very green neither.

    Mark & Spencer (UK) has started labeling on the products that they sell, the transportation cost associated with it.

  15. VicfromATL says

    Also think about the harmful effects of genetically modified foods.

    In the US, most of the Corn, Soy, Canola, Potatoes are GM which have been known to cause health issues and mess up the environment. The problem is that the companies are not required to label their products in the US. I hope they do that soon.

  16. says

    I saw a similar list showing tomatoes to be a heavy carrier of pesticides. I found out that the organic tomatoes at my grocery store are the same price so I made the switch. I agree that this is more of a concern for pregnant women and babies, but all of us would be doing ourselves a favor if we reduce our intake of dangerous chemicals.

  17. Thanks for posting about the Shopper’s Guide, Jonathan!

    I thought I’d let you and your readers know that you can donate to EWG Action Fund’s Organics Campaign — $65 or more gets you an organic cotton shopping bag with the Shopper’s Guide printed on the side.

    Also, some insight into EWG’s reasons for recommending organics, from “Because the toxic effects of pesticides are worrisome, not well understood, or in some cases completely unstudied, shoppers are wise to minimize exposure to pesticides whenever possible.”

  18. Wow, that is really shocking. Almost all those on the left side are grown in my geographical location and thus are readily available. APPLES?! I eat them practically every day. I’m sure pesticides aren’t great for children and babies, but women of childbearing age, pregnant and nursing moms and men of reproductive age should probably avoid these chemicals too, as I assume they can be damaging to the delicate reproductive system and can pass from mother to child. As a 29-year-old woman who’s now interested in starting a family, and struggling with possible hormone-related infertility issues, this is particularly disturbing.

    From your cited article: “A host of vital organ systems continue to grow and mature from conception throughout childhood. At critical periods of developmental change, these systems are susceptible to the toxic effects of pesticides and toxic chemicals, both individually, and in mixtures. Many organ systems, for example the nervous system and brain, can be permanently, if subtly damaged by exposure to toxic substances in-utero…” and “The endocrine (hormone) system is perhaps even more sensitive to toxic exposure than the nervous system…Ultra-low doses of pesticides and toxic chemicals on critical days of development can cause changes in hormone function and effects on organ development and function that often only appear later in life…low doses at a susceptible moment of development can cause more of an effect than high doses. This is particularly relevant to childhood and fetal exposures via food and water where the timing of the exposure is at least as important as the dose. Many pesticides are now considered “endocrine disrupters”, in part because the term is something of a catch phrase for chemicals that cause a variety of changes in normal hormone signaling.”

  19. Nony-mouse says


    Thanks for the education. My arguments are indeed ridiculous….just as how ridiculous people can be.

    Microwave ovens, cellphones cause cancer!!

    I used to work in catering…..i know how stupid people can be.
    “Please dont use oil in my cooking”…..but then u see a freaking cheeseburger + fries on their tray.

  20. Apparently the whole organic thing is very contentious! We do get some of our veggies organic, and some not (we actually go mainly for local veggies, but where we get them they happen to be organic.)

    Since most everyone here is talking about anecdotal evidence, my anecdotal evidence is that I love strawberries and have since I was a kid. My feeling was that I was liking strawberries less and less every year – they were big and red, but didn’t have much flavor and the consistency wasn’t right. Perhaps my tastes were changing. But the strawberries we got from the organic farm this year reminded me that I do REALLY love strawberries. I was like a kid in a free candy store. =) I may never buy grocery store strawberries again.

  21. Though it makes sense that fewer pesticides are better, there have never been any large scientific studies really showing a host of health ills from ingesting them, at least at the quantities you might find from food. These things have been in use for decades, at least starting since after WWII. I think supporting sustainable agriculture and reducing the carbon burden is a much better goal than simply reducing the amount of pesticides!

  22. I eat organically grown produce as much as I can–lots of people think organic foods are BS, that there’s not enough evidence that they are better, etc. but as FFB said about strawberries, for me it’s really about the taste. Try it–you’ll notice the difference in taste, esp. if the organic produce wasn’t trucked across the country and is local. Besides, if you know that there’s a small possibility that pesticides are toxic and harmful to you in the long run, do you really want to take chances because it’s cheaper now?

  23. Teri Fitzpatrick says

    To me poison is poison. I think limiting the amount of exposure to all poison in all forms must be a wise, logical thing to do. Of course all factors must be considered such as economics. Poison has increased food production and reduced starvation. But at what price? What trade off? More research needs to be done.

  24. current o-chem student says

    Pesticides are hazardous substances. I remember looking up some LD 50- oral (lethal dose 50% by oral consumption ) information on pesticides and most all pesticides are carcinogenic….and as the lethal dose information were towards rats (oral-rat)…if you think about it over a period of time if you were to eat pesticide fruits and vegetables the carcinogenic substances would accumulate in your body and become cancer…maybe that’s why cancer is so high nowadays…for me if i buy organic fruits and vegetables i try to ration those for a while since i wont have any money left over to buy any other type of food and besides i am trying to loose weight so its working out…

  25. Good article – now I know what to grow.

  26. For a lot of people, eating organic has to do with not participating in farming practices that degrade the environment over the long term. Fertilizer use leads to run off that creates algae blooms. Large scale monocropping by factory farms is the main reason that pesticides have to be used. Due to the tragedy of the commons, you can end up overfarming the land and end up with a dustbowl that is nutrient depleted. When that happens, you end up using petroleum derived fertilizers. It can turn into a systemic problem of consumption.

    I shop at farmer’s markets and talk to the farmers about their practices. Some of them do use pesticides, but they won’t blanket their whole farm, just the area that needs it. Some of them don’t use pesticides, but natural predators. Sure the food isn’t as luscious in a magazine spread, but it’s not coated with waxes for the market bin. It’s not gassed to turn them redder, etc.

    Just something to think about. Farming as a economic proposition vs actual biological resource. Altering farming practices may lead to decreased use of the very things many of us are trying to save (petroleum, potable water, etc.) I’m not necessarily advocating one position over another, but putting something else out there that your commenters haven’t already mentioned.

  27. Perspective of a former organic-mocker who then (1) went to medical school, (2) took several years off from medicine to do research on neural development and the impacts of toxins, (3) did political work that involved seeing more of how the federal safety regulations are set, and (4) began planning for a pregnancy: I no longer make fun of my friends who spend the extra cash for the organics on that left-hand list. I do it myself.

    I do not know how the evidence would weigh out for me if I were male or a women who did not plan to have children in the future, but at this point the evidence is pretty overwhelming that for children or women who may become pregnant / nurse in the future, these things should be taken very seriously.

    For comparison purposes: I would say that at this point, the evidence that pesticides and a number of other common environmental toxins are dangerous for pregnant women is far stronger and points to higher risks and more serious effects than the evidence that light to moderate drinking during pregnancy is dangerous. So, if you take the latter seriously, you should definitely take the former seriously.

  28. re: I had a boss who eats very very very healthy food only, ie: non pasteurised milk, raw fish etc?..and she has tons of health problems.

    I have read many books over detoxifying your body. One of the topics discussed is that if you have been eating toxic foods your whole life and just make a sudden switch to organic/healthier foods, your body actually starts a natural detoxifying… which can actually be harmful if you don’t start out the process slow. I’m thinking that the organic foods did not hurt your boss, but that she may have actually started detoxifying without even knowing it. Your body will actually store all the chemicals from foods you eat in your fat cells, and when you go to detox they come out wreaking havoc on your body, inside an out. Not to scare anyone! I have just started eating organic this year and feel so much better. But I am still in process of going completely organic/all natural, I don’t want to shock my system.

    These are just some things I’ve read and would like to lay it out, there is so much to learn that you have to keep an open mind… people are always scared of what they don’t understand.

  29. linsey lohan says

    I love food. I can’t beleive all of those foods have chemicals on them.

    I thank the people who wrote the article for the powerful information.

  30. Acai Berry Detox says

    I’m always into discussions on anything organic, so this read made me feel at home.
    I’ll bookmark the site and subscribe to the feed!

  31. kathleen says

    Its really amazing how clueless all of you are. Have you seen The future of Food or Food Inc? Maybe that will open your eyes. Organic all the way- local even better- and growing your own; the best. Organic farmers aren’t getting rich. The ones who are are those who grow commercial non-organic.

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