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There’s a lot of debate about whether organic is better or not. We choose organic for our family and use the dirty dozen and clean 15 as a starting point to help us make healthier shopping decisions.
When talking with people about going green, I’m often asked for simple tips on how to get started. Moving to a more natural lifestyle is a process. Very few people can flip the switch overnight – we didn’t. We’re still evolving our lifestyle every day.
We made the decision to go to all organic produce (unless an organic version of something we need isn’t available) back in 2011. What finally pushed us over the edge was when Brian bit into a conventionally grown peach and tasted the pesticides. I took a bite and could taste it too. Not good.
We tossed about 6 pounds of peaches that we were planning to can, because we decided they were inedible.
The next day I headed to the grocery store and stocked up on all organic produce. Where we live, the selection is very limited, but it’s improving every month. And heading in the right direction is the key.
That said, I know not everyone can fit the cost of all organic produce into their budget right away, so what’s most important to buy organic? And what can you buy conventionally grown that has the lowest pesticide load and other risks?
First, we’ll cover the dirty dozen. These are the 12 items that typically carry the heaviest pesticide load, and the items you should always buy organic if at all possible. Next, I’ll cover the Clean 15. These are the items with the lightest pesticide load, so you can feel safe buying conventional versions of these foods.
Each year, the Environmental Working Group puts out this list after doing extensive testing. I try to keep this list as up to date as possible because it’s always changing.
2019 Dirty Dozen List
Always buy organic versions of these produce items:
- Bonus: Hot Peppers
2019 Clean 15 List
And these are the 15 conventionally grown (by this, I mean they use conventional pesticides) produce items you can feel most comfortable buying. These are also known as “The Clean 15,” produce that bears little to no traces of pesticides, and is considered safe to consume in non-organic form.
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas (frozen)
- Honeydew Melon
There is one item on this list I’d caution against buying conventionally however – sweet corn.
About 92% of corn is genetically modified in the United States. Whether that concerns you or not, it concerns me. Genetically modified food is so new to the human diet that we have no idea of the effects it could truly have on us long-term. And corn is listed as dozens of different ingredients on food labels, so it’s important to understand how to read them if you choose to avoid it.
Additionally, approximately 94% of all soy in the United States is now genetically modified (learn more about avoiding GMO soy). If you’re curious about what other crops are currently grown genetically modified in the US, this list came directly from Monsanto’s website:
- Sugar Beets
So, these are also foods you should be trying your best to buy organic – every time you shop.
Avoid Non-Organic Processed Foods
The average American eats processed food every day. And almost every processed food package contains corn, soy or canola in some form.
So what does that mean?
Almost every processed food that is not marked USDA Organic at the grocery store now contains genetically modified foods.
To effectively avoid genetically modified foods, in addition to buying the above produce items in organic form, you need to avoid all products that list corn, soy, canola and any of their derivatives as an ingredient, unless it’s labeled USDA 100% Organic.
If you care about your health, don’t buy processed food. But if you are going to buy processed food, at least make sure it’s certified organic so you aren’t consuming genetically modified food.
Full List of Conventionally Grown Foods to Avoid
So, here is the full list of the items (including ingredient derivatives) you should always buy organic, either because they carry a heavy pesticide load or because non-organic versions are often (if not always) genetically modified:
- Hot Peppers
- Sugar Beets
I hope this gives those of you looking to move towards a more natural, real food diet a simple starting point. If you’re worried about a growing food budget, I wrote a post on how to afford organic foods that you should check out.