Conventional vs. Organic Produce: Your Cheat Sheet

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While the scientific debate rages on regarding the health and environmental benefits of organic vs. conventional foods, ultimately it’s up to the individual consumers to make tough decisions at the supermarket. It may seem like a no-brainer to buy organic, but let’s be realistic, sometimes those choices aren’t always available or financially feasible for families or individuals on a tight grocery budget. A recent Stanford study found that while organic foods weren’t nutritionally superior to their conventional counterparts, organic produce does have less pesticide residue. However, the pesticide residue on conventional produce already falls below EPA standards and routine food handling practices such as washing, peeling and cooking, further reduces the pesticide residue.

The question becomes whether or not you are comfortable with the EPA standards. Young children, pregnant women and older people with chronic health problems are most vulnerable to pesticide exposure. But most of us, given the choice, would like to minimize the chemicals in our foods. However, it comes at a steep price since organic produce costs more than conventionally-grown produce. Anybody who’s ever shopped at Whole Foods can attest to sticker shock at the cash register. So what’s a health-conscious, non-millionaire to do? If cost is a factor, buy organic selectively.

According to the Environmental Working Group, here is the “Dirty Dozen Plus” list of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables that are the most important to buy organic.

Dirty Dozen Plus

1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Cherry Tomatoes
4. Cucumbers
5. Grapes
6. Hot Peppers
7. Nectarines
8. Peaches
9. Potatoes
10. Spinach
11. Strawberries
12. Sweet Bell Peppers
13. Kale/Collard Greens
14. Summer Squash

Here is the “Clean Fifteen” list of conventionally grown items which are generally low in pesticides and considered safe to buy non-organic.

The Clean 15:

1. onions
2. sweet corn
3. pineapples
4. avocado
5. cabbage
6. sweet peas
7. asparagus
8. mangoes
9. eggplant
10. kiwi
11. domestic cantaloupe
12. sweet potatoes
13. grapefruit
14. watermelon
15. mushrooms

Bottom line: The health benefits of a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables far outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. But you can stretch your grocery bill a little further by following this cheat sheet, and who doesn’t want that?

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Minsun Park

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Minsun Park is a blogger, writer and a black belt in taekwondo who gets her ass handed to her daily by her two sons. She’s written for iVillage, SheKnows, ePregnancy and is featured in “The Hot Mom’s Handbook” by Jessica Denay. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter: @MinsunPark

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