Just about everyone knows that eating healthy means consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables. For the most part, people also know that buying these foods organic is very important. There are many reasons to buy organic, and some of these include avoiding GMOs, decreased chemical and pesticide residue, higher nutrient density, and environmental responsibility. However, it is not always realistic to purchase 100% organic produce 100% of the time. Budget restraints and availability are the main reason for this. As a Nutritionist, it is part of my job to help people make the best choices for their health with the resources they have available. How can you make buying organic more realistic and affordable for your family? My best advice is to use the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15”, along with a few exceptions based on my professional opinion.
What are the “Dirty Dozen” & the “Clean 15”?
Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) tests produce from the US to determine which items have the highest vs. lowest chemical pesticide, herbicide, and insecticide residues. The foods with the highest levels are put on the “Dirty Dozen” list, meaning these are ones you definitely want to buy organic. Those with the lowest levels are put on the “Clean 15”, which means you can feel okay about buying conventionally grown items from this list. Below is the most recent list available:
The “Dirty Dozen”
- Strawberries (ALL berries)
- Spinach (ALL leafy greens)
- Sweet bell peppers
- Cherry tomatoes
- Hot peppers
*Add Bananas: d/t artificial ripening process
The “Clean 15”
- Sweet potatoes
- Sweet peas
What are the exceptions?
I have a few exceptions to the “Clean 15” list. You should always buy all soy, corn, and potatoes (all varieties) organic. This is due to the fact that, in the US, these foods are extremely likely to be GMO if conventionally grown. Additionally, because potatoes are a root vegetable, they absorb a majority of what is in the soil they’re grown in- including any excess chemicals. Conventionally grown potatoes are also one of the most sprayed vegetables; they’re treated before, during, and after harvest after harvesting. Lastly, you’ll also want to buy bananas organic. Before this fruit reaches grocery store shelves it is treated with artificial ripening hormone, which could be potentially harmful to your health.
Other ways to stretch your food dollar
Buy produce in season: This ensures the biggest “bang for your buck” as well as the best quality.
Buy from your local farmer’s market or join a CSA or Co-op : You can get fresh, all organic produce for a fraction of what you’d pay at the store and you can help support the local economy!
Buy in bulk: Stores like Costco and Sam’s Club have a selection of organic produce at a decent price. Getting quality in quantity can stretch your dollar further.
Plan your meals: Meal planning saves money- plan & simple. It limits the spontaneous desire to go out to eat and you also only buy the ingredients you truly need.