The Only 15 Foods That Are Worth Buying Organic

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By Laurel Randolph

In a perfect world, all food would be organic and we would all be able to afford it. Instead we're faced with awkward produce-aisle decisions every time we step foot into a grocery store -- is this worth paying 50 cents, $1, $5 more? What are the health implications, and is organic equally important across the board?

Let's get real here: most organic food hasn't been proven to be "better" for you, meaning it doesn't contain more nutrients or some magic cancer-fighting voodoo. So far, studies have been inconclusive about the effects of eating a diet rich in organic foods versus non-organic. But even skeptics can't argue with the principles of organic farming and food buying: no harmful chemicals and sustainable environmental practices.

Not everyone can afford to go full organic, and that's where the Environmental Working Group comes in. The non-profit publishes research yearly based on the level of pesticides found in fruits and veggies, and ranks them from worst to best.

Below is a list of 15 food items using the group and other researchers' information that you should pony up for and go organic. Everything on this list is doubly important for kids and pregnant women. Finally, whenever possible, buy local.

The Only 15 Foods That Are Worth Buying Organic
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The Only 15 Foods That Are Worth Buying Organic
If you're going to buy just one thing organic, make it apples. They consistently appear at the top of the EWG's offenders list, harboring a number of pesticides that traditional farmers use to keep pests and disease at bay. Most of the harmful stuff is contained in the skin, but it's also the healthiest part of the apple. Luckily, organic versus non-organic apples has one of the lowest price differences, so you won't be paying double for your peace of mind.
Many doctors think that babies are more susceptible to the potential negative health impacts of pesticides. When your baby begins to transition to solid food, it's a good idea to feed your child organic whenever possible. This is especially true for the fruits and vegetables on this list, since they tend to have more pesticide residue in the first place. To offset the increase in cost, consider buying in bulk.
Berries are sensitive and heavily exposed -- they don't have a tough outer shell or skin to protect them. Because they grow largely unprotected, they are more susceptible to pests, and pesticides are often the solution. Note that according to the EWG, domestically grown blueberries are more contaminated than international varieties.
These delicious stone fruits have thin, edible skins and are naturally delicate, so they are typically sprayed with various poisons to keep them from molding and to keep away pests. Even if you peel your peaches or nectarines, traces of chemicals will remain. Some doctors suggest buying organic versions of these fruit is especially important if you are pregnant or have children.
Celery also scored high on EWG's list, with 13 chemicals detected in total. The crunchy veggie is porous and grows largely outside of the ground, so it absorbs chemicals easily. Next time you're at the market, reach for the organic option, along with a jar of peanut butter (organic, of course).
If you have kids or just love peanut butter as much as a kid, then consider investing in organic peanut butter. It will be pesticide-free, and most organic brands utilize a healthier recipe to boost the good-for-you-ness. It may take a few tries to find a brand you like and get your family on board, especially if they are used to the sugary, unnaturally smooth stuff, but it's worth it.
Considering the amount of potatoes an average American consumes, switching to organic spuds is a no-brainer. Even if you're scrubbing and peeling your potatoes, there's a very good chance they still contain potentially-harmful chemicals. The EWG found that the average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food tested. So before mashing or frying or baking, shell out a few more cents for organic taters and put your mind at ease.
Traditional farming practices now include treating cows with hormones so that they will produce more milk. Unfortunately, we can't have our milk and drink it too. Some of these hormones are passed on to the consumer, and although we do not know the full impact, many people are choosing the precautionary route and switching their families to organic dairy. Look for rBGH-free on the label.
Delicate greens -- including spinach, lettuce, kale, and collard greens -- all make it in the top 15 of EWG's list. Many highly toxic chemicals are permitted on leafy greens, and even chemicals that were banned in recent years can still be absorbed through the soil and show up in the plants. If you are a frequent salad eater, just buy organic. The EWG recommends that kale and collard green lovers that don't buy organic should consider cooking before eating.
Tomatoes are one of the only fruits or vegetables that has been proven to be more nutritious in organic form. According to a study, organic tomatoes have nearly double the concentration of two flavonoids, which are considered very healthful. Conventional tomatoes also made the EWG naughty list, so the choice seems clear: organic all the way.
Sweet bell peppers rank high on the list, as these colorful veggies tend to have surprising amounts of pesticides remaining on them. Go organic when you can, and when eating conventional bell peppers be sure to give them a nice, cold bath. Cooking also helps to reduce the amount of chemicals present.
EWG tests found a single grape with 15 pesticides. Gross. Because they ripen quickly and end up attracting insects, grapes often get sprayed with a multitude of chemicals to keep them untouched and in perfect eating order. If you can't find organic or can't stomach the price tag, buy seasonally from a local source and give them a good wash.
The European Union has already banned the use of hormones in cattle, but the practice is still permitted in many other countries, including the U.S. These hormones can remain in the meat, and the potential health effects of ingesting them on a regular basis is not yet studied well. But buying organic meat is as much about the potential health risks of the growth hormones and antibiotics as it is about choosing the more humane option. Organic cattle are typically given more space, allowed to graze, and fed natural feed so that they can live a happy and healthy life before making it to the plate.
Conventional varieties of this refreshing vegetable are typically treated with a petroleum-based wax to preserve freshness. This wax is also good at holding on to already present pesticides, and is impossible to completely wash off at home. Organic varieties omit this wax, making them a superior produce aisle choice. When eating the conventional version, be sure to wash and peel the cucumber - although this does not guarantee removal of all chemicals, and it removes some of the nutrients.
For those who indulge in spice on a regular basis, try to buy organic hot peppers whenever possible. Conventional hot peppers often have high levels of harmful pesticides, partly because a few especially nasty chemicals are permitted on peppers that aren't allowed on other common crops.
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