By now, a lot of us are becoming bigger fans of organic foods, even when we have to pay more for them. We know that buying organic beef, poultry and dairy means we’ll get products from animals that were not given growth hormones or routine antibiotics in their feeds.
Similarly, when you buy organic produce, it means that these were grown without chemical pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers or genetically modified organisms.
The general rule of thumb for knowing when to buy organic fruits and vegetables is that if the skin is edible or the vegetable grew underground, it will usually contain more chemical residues. So, for instance, corn, avocados and bananas are safer to consume even when they are not organic, because they all have sturdy shells or peels that will come off before we eat them.
But when it comes to the following fruits and vegetables, your best bet is to buy organic, according to the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C., non-profit organization that does scientific, consumer-oriented and environmental research:
- Peaches and Nectarines: these delicious but delicate fruits tend to have higher pesticide residues, due to their thin skins, which we eat; imported nectarines may have even more residues. When these are not available as organic, soak them in water with a little bit of vinegar for a few moments. (Don’t use dish soap to wash off organic or non-organic produce, as that only adds to the chemicals!)
- Apples and Pears: These are the number 1 and 2 most popular fruits in the United States, respectively. A lot of the nutrients in an apple are in the peel, you’ve probably heard. Apple peels are also very rich in fiber, so it’s a good idea to eat them; but the peel is also where pesticides accumulate. Buy organic apples and pears when available; soak non-organic ones in water and vinegar. (Some people recommend soaking produce in hot water to get rid of dirt and residue … but that will take away from the crispness.)
- Grapes, Strawberries and Cherries: with no skin to peel, you are better off investing organic dollars on these.
- Bell Peppers and Hot Peppers: Their thin skins make them soak up more chemicals; buy these organic when available. Bell peppers are high in vitamins A, C and fiber; hot peppers have those vitamins, plus capsaicin, the compound that makes them spicy. Capsaicin has been found in studies to reduce inflammation, boost blood circulation, and even suppress certain types of cancer cells.
- Cherry Tomatoes: these tend to retain residues on the skins, so, buy organic. Soak non-organic tomatoes in water and vinegar … or grow your own! This is a vegetable that’s easy to grow, and the homegrown varieties can be so much more flavorful.
- Cucumbers and Squash: though these have skins that can be removed, they grow on the ground, soaking up more of the chemicals that are used on the crops.
- Celery: high-fiber, nutrient-packed celery tends to accumulate more residue, so, buy organic. And whatever type you buy, cut off the whitish bottoms of the stalks, and give the green sections you’ll eat a good soaking, to eliminate residues or dirt.
- Leafy Greens, including lettuce, spinach, kale and collard greens: the USDA Pesticide Data Program found 57 pesticide residues in conventionally grown spinach and 51 in lettuce!
- Carrots: high in fiber and vitamin A, carrots grow underground and have porous skins; so, buy organic.
- Potatoes: most conventionally grown potatoes get more pesticides than many crops; so, choose organic for this nutritious, filling and inexpensive staple.
More scientists are coming to the conclusion that exposure to chemicals from crops can have adverse effects on consumers’ health. People who should especially consume organic produce and other organic foods are pregnant women, children and those with impaired immune function.
Health authorities agree that the benefits of eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables far outweigh any potential risks from chemical residues. Buy organic when you can, but the main thing is to eat several servings of fruits and veggies a day, rinsing them off before consuming as recommended above. Also, buy locally grown organic produce whenever possible, as that will not only help local growers, but the environment, since produce doesn’t have to be transported long distances to get to you.
By Eirian Hallinan