Curiously while working on this series I came across an article supporting organic food over local food. While I have tried to make this series unbiased and I’m hoping that this is simply educating readers on the pros and cons of organic products, I do personally favor local to organic with locally organic being the most ideal. Why? Well because I like to know where my food comes from and I like to know the people who grew, tended to, and harvested what I’m eating. The article “The eco-diet… and it’s not just about food miles” can be found here. I don’t support local foods solely because they “traveled less” than organic foods, I support them because I support today’s society becoming more connected with what their food is, how it was produced, and how it got to their plate. That being said, I still highly recommend reading the article above.

As we finish up the Demystifying Organic series I would like to point out foods that should be purchased organic whenever possible due to the herbicides, pesticides, or genetically modified organisms used in the growth, harvesting, or production of these foods. The foods listed here are most commonly known as The Dirty Dozen. To contrast I will also list the least contaminated foods.

The Dirty Dozen

  • Nectarines – In the Environmental Working Group’s report “The Shopper’s guide to Pesticides in Produce” (see Learn More below) nectarines were found to have the highest possitive test result for pesticides (97.3%) and had the highest likelihood for multiple pesticides on a single sample.
  • Pears
  • Peaches – In the EWG’s report peaches were found to have the most pesticides overall, with some samples showing a combination of up to 45 different pesticides.
  • Cherries
  • Berries – Including Strawberries and Raspberries, berries are laden with pesticides and due to their sizes, shapes, and textures can be very difficult to clean properly.
  • Apples
  • Celery – In the vegetable category celery had the highest percentage of samples to test positive for pesticides (94.5%). Celery also had the highest chance of multiple pesticides on a single sample
  • Spinach – Was found to have the most pesticides on a single sample with 10 different pesticides detected.
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Bell Peppers – Vegetable with the most pesticides overall with up to 39 different pesticides used on a single sample.

Consistently Clean

  • Pineapple – Less than 10% had detectable pesticides and fewer than 1% of samples had more than one pesticide residue
  • Mango
  • Bananas
  • Kiwi
  • Papaya
  • Sweet Corn – Though Sweet Corn had the lowest chance of sample containing more than one pesticide used on sample, with 0% it is important to purchase organic corn since most of our corn today is genetically modified
  • Avocado – Tied with Sweet Corn, Avocado had the lowest chance of sample containing more than one pesticide used on sample, with 0%
  • Cauliflower
  • Asparagus
  • Onion
  • Peas – 73% of samples had no detectable pesticides
  • Broccoli – Of all the vegetables tested broccoli had highest likelihood (with a 2.6% chance) that more than one pesticide to be detected on a sample.

Recommendations for avoiding pesticides in diet:

  • Do not over consume foods that have a tendency to concentrate pesticides like animal fats in eggs, cheese, meats, and milk. Try to purchase free range and organic forms of these foods
  • Try to buy local produce in season
  • Peeling off the skin or removing the outer layer of leaves of some produce may be all that is needed to reduce pesticide levels. However, doing this may reduce the nutritional benefits of some foods due to many nutrients being concentrated in the skin and outer layers of fruits and vegetables. Alternatively you can soak your produce in a mild solution of additive-free soap (such as Ivory or pure castile soap). Spray food with cleanser, gently scrub, and rinse.
  • Avoiding pesticides is especially important in younger children. Infants and toddlers have a greater risk of suffering from the damaging effects of pesticides because 1. young children eat more foods containing pesticide relative to their body mass and 2. Young children consume foods higher in pesticide residue. A study at the University of Washington analyzed the levels of breakdown products of organophosphorus pesticides (a class of insecticides that disrupt the nervous system) in urine of 39 urban and suburban children 2-4 years of age and found concentrations of pesticide metabolites were one sixth as high in the children who ate organic fruits and vegetables as in those eating conventional produce.
  • Try to purchase Organic baby food (or make your own with fresh organic produce!)
  • Anything you or your children eat a lot of. Pesticides accumulate overtime if you have staples in your diet try to find organic choices even if they aren’t on the dirty dozen list.

Learn More

  • The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit consumer advocate group focused on exposing the threats to our health and environment and offer solutions and alternatives. The EWG put together “The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce” a report ranking the 47 most popular fruits and vegetables based on more than 100,000 tests for pesticides conducted from 1992 to 2001 by the USDA.
  • Green Living by the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine – Tips for “living lightly on the Earth” from healthy homes and planet friendly cars to making socially responsible investments and going organic
  • Grub by Anne Lappe and Bryant Terry – Handbook for the urban organic kitchen filled with seasonal recipes, tales from the organic life, and the knowledge needed to make the best choices

In closing

Organics were once foods saved for dread lock bearing, granola crunching, barefooted hippies. Now most every grocery store has an organic produce section as well as organic crackers, chocolate, and juices within the store. Only a handful of years ago did we resist buying organics due to their high cost (especially in comparison to the cheap conventional alternatives) today organic products have comparable prices to conventional products and the knowledge on the pros and cons of purchasing each is becoming more widely available.

I hope the Demystifying Organics series has armed you with the knowledge you need to make the best choices next time you visit your local grocery store or farmers’ market. There are many arguments for and against any type of food you will choose, but next time you find yourself in a toss up over an organic apple from New Zealand, a conventional apple from Mexico, and an apple from your local farmer remember that we aren’t just “what we eat” what we eat shapes the world. Our choices today will lay the foundation for how food will be grown, harvested, and processed tomorrow.


Murray, Michael ND Healing Foods. Atria Books: New York 2005