On Your Health

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Should You Buy Organic Fruits and Vegetables?


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Organic or not? That's the million-dollar question. Is it REALLY so important to buy organic fruits and vegetables, or is the whole debate mostly a bunch of marketing hype? Many experts agree your best health bet is to buy organic when possible. But why is that? Besides the fact that organic produce usually has more nutrients and antioxidants, organic fruits and vegetables have a much lower pesticide load. Why should you care about pesticides? Pesticides are toxic by design, because they were created specifically to kill living things like insects, plants and fungi. There are numerous studies in the scientific literature linking pesticide exposure to diseases and conditions for humans, too, including diseases like Parkinson's and cancer. The effects of pesticides are especially detrimental during fetal development and in childhood. Also, some scientists think it's possible the pesticides and herbicides used in non-organic farming contaminate groundwater, promote erosion and damage ecosystems. But everyone knows organic produce costs more, and not everyone can afford to buy, or has access to, organic produce all the time. What's a budget shopper to do? Each year, the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, publishes a Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce. This guide explains which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticides and which have the fewest, with the goal of helping consumers decide when to spend extra for organic produce. Some key findings from the report:
  • More than 98 percent of strawberry samples, peaches, nectarines, and apples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
  • The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce.
  • A single grape sample and a sweet bell pepper sample contained 15 pesticides.
  • Single samples of strawberries showed 17 different pesticides.
  • Avocados were the cleanest: only 1 percent of avocado samples showed any detectable pesticides.
  • 89 percent of pineapples, 81 percent of papayas, 78 percent of mangoes, 73 percent of kiwi and 62 percent of cantaloupes had no residues.
Whether you are on a budget and need to prioritize your organic purchases, or would simply like to know which types of produce have the highest pesticide residues—and which do not—here are the recommendations from the Environmental Working Group. 12 Most Contaminated Fruits and Vegetables, aka The Dirty Dozen (buy organic whenever you can)
  • strawberries
  • apples
  • nectarines
  • peaches
  • celery
  • grapes
  • cherries
  • spinach
  • tomatoes
  • sweet bell peppers
  • cherry tomatoes
  • cucumbers

15 Least Contaminated Fruits and Vegetables, aka The Clean 15 (less risky to buy non-organic)
  • avocados
  • sweet corn
  • pineapple
  • cabbage
  • sweet frozen peas
  • onions
  • asparagus
  • mangos
  • papaya
  • kiwi
  • eggplant
  • honeydew melon
  • grapefruit
  • cantaloupe
  • cauliflower

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