When to Buy Organic (and When to Save Your Money)

when to buy organicGoing organic” is all the rage these days. The benefits of eating organic food are clear, but sometimes organic stuff costs twice as much, which is cost-prohibitive for a lot of grocery budgets. So the question is … is buying organic worth it? The short answer: in some cases yes and others no. Let’s explore when to buy organic and when you can probably skip it.

First up, my go-to source whenever I’m wondering “Should I buy organic?” is The Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Every year the EWG publishes a list of the most pesticide-ridden fruits and vegetables. According to their website:

EWG publishes its annual rating of conventional foods with the most and least pesticide residues to fill the void left by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has largely failed to tell Americans they have a right to know about the risks of pesticide exposure and ways they can reduce pesticides in their diets.

Let’s sum up some key findings from this year’s report (complete lists are included below):

  • The list of most contaminated produce (the “Dirty Dozen“) includes apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, peppers, nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, snap peas and potatoes. Each of these foods had high concentrations of pesticides compared to other produce items. A few things to note:
    • All imported nectarines and 99 percent of apples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
    • Potatoes had more pesticides by weight than any other food.
    • A single grape sample contained 15 pesticides.
    • Single samples of celery, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece.
    • Leafy greens like kale and collard greens as well as hot peppers were not on the Dirty Dozen list but were found to have insecticides that are toxic to the human nervous system. EWG recommends that people who eat a lot of these foods buy organic instead.
  •  The “Clean Fifteen” is the produce with the least amount of pesticide residues, and includes avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes.
    • Avocados were the cleanest: only 1 percent had pesticides.
    • 89 percent of pineapples, 82 percent of kiwi, 80 percent of papayas, 88 percent of mango and 61 percent of cantaloupe had no residues.

When to Buy Organic

Here are the 20 most contaminated foods. I recommend buying organic if your budget allows:

  1. Apples
  2. Strawberries
  3. Grapes
  4. Celery
  5. Peaches
  6. Spinach
  7. Sweet Bell Peppers
  8. Nectarines (imported)
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry tomatoes
  11. Snap peas (imported)
  12. Potatoes
  13. Hot peppers
  14. Blueberries
  15. Lettuce
  16. Kale/collard greens
  17. Plums
  18. Cherries
  19. Nectarines (domestic)
  20. Pears

When to Skip Organic

Generally speaking, the thicker a fruit or vegetable’s skin, the less you have to worry about pesticides tainting it. Here are the EWG’s “Clean 15”:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn (note: most corn is genetically modified so I still buy organic when possible)
  3. Pineapple
  4. Cabbage
  5. Sweet peas (frozen)
  6. Onion
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangoes
  9. Papaya
  10. Kiwi
  11. Eggplant
  12. Grapefruit
  13. Cantaloupe
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Sweet Potatoes

Hope this helps you make smarter decisions in the grocery store. If you liked this article, please share it below!

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  1. Amy says:

    Good read. What is your feeling on organic dairy? Which would be a better choice? Organic vanilla flavored regular yogurt (stoneyfield I think is the brand) or Chobani 0% strawberry (or any fruit) flavored? I don’t like plain greek yogurt and am trying to decide which is the better choice. Thanks for your input!

  2. Amy: most flavored yogurts have so much added sugar you might as well call it dessert. If plain yogurt isn’t sweet enough for you, try adding a bit of honey or liquid stevia extract plus fresh or dried fruit (that’s what I do). Also, organic dairy is always a better option.

  3. stan says:

    I did not see beer on your list. Are there any organic beers out there?

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