Should I buy organic, and is it worth the investment?
This is a question that I am asked all the time as a Registered Dietitian. Organic produce is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, and research has shown that it has higher cancer fighting potential because of this. It’s true – buying all organic produce can be pricey – so I tend to recommend following the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” when my clients ask me about purchasing organic and sticking to a budget. This is also what I use when writing the grocery lists for my clients’ customized meal plans.
The “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” are two lists of produce to help you choose which foods to buy organic, or conventional. Note: this list changes yearly. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization which determines the list each year, and updates it based on new findings in pesticide use, and contamination of certain foods. The “Clean Fifteen” is made of the top 15 foods which are grown using the least chemicals and pesticides, while the “Dirty Dozen” is made of the 12 foods grown with the most amount of pesticides. If possible, I recommend purchasing the the produce on the dirty dozen list as organic to keep pesticide levels down. As you can see from the list below, the dirty dozen are often things where we eat the skin and the fruit/vegetable, whereas on the clean fifteen the skin is not consumed.
- Within the Dirty Dozen, the EGW uncovered a few surprising facts. Strawberries, spinach, peaches, cherries, and apples all were found to have traces of at least one pesticide residue. Strawberries were found to have at least 20 different forms of pesticide residue (definitely buy these organic if you can!).
- In the Clean Fifteen, avocados and sweet corn were found to have less than 1% of any form of pesticide residue, and not one fruit on the Clean Fifteen was found to have more than four types of pesticide residue.
With that being said, it is always better to have fresh produce than no produce.
There is not a drastic nutritional difference between organic and conventional foods, and there are TONS of vital vitamins and minerals within conventional, non-organic produce. Also note that there are many other fruits and vegetables which fall in the middle of the two groups, such as bananas or kale. For these “inbetween foods” I recommended shopping by the season. Organic strawberries will always be more expensive in the fall as compared to organic apples, since they are in season. Therefore, shop around for seasonal, fresh produce to fit your budget and keep the nutrition level high!
Print out this 2018 Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 list to bring on your next shopping trip!
The 2018 “Dirty Dozen”
- Sweet Bell Peppers
The “Clean Fifteen”
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet peas frozen
- Honeydew Melon
Using the “Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen” while shopping is a quick and easy way to save money, while still getting the highest amounts of cancer fighting potential from produce and keeping pesiticide levels down. Keep the list on your phone, or a piece of paper in your purse/wallet for easy access during grocery shopping! Want to know more? Contact me.
- Environmental Working Group. “EWG’s 2018 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™.”EWG, www.ewg.org/foodnews/full-list.php.
-Written by Abigail Palmquist, Blush Nutrition Intern and Brittany Jones, MS, RD, LD, owner of Blush Nutrition