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Dietitians Dish: Should I buy organic or not?

By By Breanna Price
April 23, 2013 at midnight
Updated April 22, 2013 at 11:23 p.m.


Spring is here with summer approaching quickly. Seasonal fruits and vegetables such as melons, corn and berries will be available in your area grocery stores.

Even more variety can be found at area farmer's markets and roadside vendors. There are many great options when it comes to eating fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

One topic that usually surrounds the fruit and vegetable discussion is buying organic. What does organic mean? What items should you buy organic? Why are they so expensive?

There are many views on this topic, and they range from those who believe everything should be organic to those who feel organic is too expensive. You may be one of these, or you may fall somewhere in between.

Maybe you just look for the best value, which sometimes happens to be organic and sometimes does not. Whether you buy organic or not, eating fruits and vegetables is a great choice.

Keep practicing those healthy habits and use this information as a guide to make your own decision about what and if you want to buy organic.

Because conventional farming uses pesticides, it is possible that some fruits and vegetables may contain residues from harmful chemicals.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, organically grown food is food grown and processed using no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Tight regulations and inspections make this process quite costly. It may not be feasible for a small, family-owned farm that practices organic farming to pay the high cost to maintain organic status. The real question remains: When should I buy organic?

The Environmental Working Group came out with a shopper's guide to help consumers make informed choices about produce. The agency evaluated data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Food and Drug Administration on 45 popular varieties.

More than 60,700 samples taken from 2000-10 were analyzed, and nearly all the studies washed and peeled the produce before collecting data. The EWG then used a ranking system to create the shopper's guide with two sections.

The Dirty Dozen Plus ranks the top 12 fruits and vegetables found to have the most pesticide residue, and two new vegetables were added that may contain harmful chemicals.

The EWG recommends items on this list be bought organic when possible. The Clean 15 ranks the top 15 fruits and vegetables with the least amount of pesticide residue, and these do not have to be purchased organic.

The Dirty Dozen Plus (2012)

  1. Apples

  2. Celery

  3. Sweet bell peppers

  4. Peaches

  5. Strawberries

  6. Nectarines (imported)

  7. Grapes

  8. Spinach

  9. Lettuce

  10. Cucumbers

  11. Blueberries (domestic)

  12. Potatoes

Plus: Green beans and kale/greens

The Clean 15 (2012)

  1. Onions

  2. Sweet corn

  3. Pineapples

  4. Avocados

  5. Cabbage

  6. Sweet peas

  7. Asparagus

  8. Mangoes

  9. Eggplant

  10. Kiwi

  11. Cantaloupe (domestic)

  12. Sweet potatoes

  13. Grapefruit

  14. Watermelon

  15. Mushrooms

There is no need to memorize these lists. When looking at the two lists, you may notice something about the produce on each one. If the skin will be eaten, like apples or tomatoes, then it probably falls on the Dirty Dozen list. Items that need peeling, such as bananas or melons, probably align with the Clean 15 list.

Just remember with pesticide residue, it is the amount of exposure over time you are getting that is key. People whose diets consist of only fruit and vegetables may want to think about buying some things organic.

If you are like most people and eat produce a few times a day and vary the types you consume, your exposure is probably much less.

The bottom line is eating fruits and vegetables are a great and healthy choice for everyone.

When you are at the grocery store next time, take a walk down the produce isle and look at all the healthy choices you can pick from. Hopefully, you won't worry as much about the little extra stuff you may also be taking home with you.

Breanna Price is a dietetic intern with DeTar Healthcare System. She attends the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

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