by Associate Clinician Alicia Leonhardt

Have you ever found yourself in the grocery store or farmers market wondering which produce items to buy organic and which ones are safe to purchase as conventional (non-organic)? What are the differences between the two anyway? These are common questions we receive from our clients at the Well. Here’s some information to keep in mind the next time you are shopping for produce.

Non-organic farmers use insecticides to help keep the bugs/insects at bay and synthetic herbicides to control the weeds. Washing your fruits and vegetables to avoid these toxic chemicals is always a good idea, but washing and/or peeling them does not eliminate all of the toxins. When a pesticide is used, it becomes systemic to the produce, not just on the outside layer. Exposure to pesticides can be harmful to our bodies in many ways and affects each person differently. Some of the major negative effects are that they disrupt the endocrine system, can cause infertility in both men and women, can be carcinogenic (cancer causing), can cause neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s or ADD/ADHD, and can cause digestive distress, such as leaky gut.

Organic farmers use more natural, ancient ways to control the insects and weeds, rather than harmful chemicals. They use insect predators and barriers to keep the bad pests away. Instead of herbicides for the weeds, they use the old methods of crop rotation, simple weeding by hand, and tilling the soil. There are also local farms that use organic methods but don’t have the organic certification, due to cost and time. It can take 2-3 years of organic farming methods before you can become certified organic. So learn about your local farmers and the methods they use. When a food is certified organic, it means there were no synthetic chemicals used, the farmland as a whole has not used any chemicals for a minimum of 2 years, and that it is not a GMO product.

You might not always be able to purchase organic produce, so knowing which conventional items are the safest to consume can be very beneficial. Here is a website that helps give guidance to the best and worst produce as far as the pesticide levels: the Environmental Working Group has created a Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which they update annually. The “Dirty Dozen” list reveals what produce should always be purchased organic, due to high levels of pesticides. This list numbers the produce 1-12, from the highest amount of pesticides used to the lowest. The “Clean 15” list shows which produce has the least amount of pesticide levels, and is therefore safer to purchase as non-organic.

Here are the current versions of these lists for ease of reference, but always be sure to check out the website for an updated list!

Dirty Dozen

  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Celery
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Bell Peppers
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers

Clean 15

  • Avocados
  • Corn*
  • Pineapples* (if pink)
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet Peas
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Papayas*
  • Kiwi
  • Eggplant
  • Honeydew
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower

*Even though these are safer regarding their pesticide levels, these items are common GMO products. For more info on GMO, you can visit our ‘How to Decipher Food Labels’ blog.

Now you have your own tools to know which produce to always buy organic and which can be safer to buy non-organic. My hope is that you feel more confident in making these decisions for you and for your family. Stay tuned for a future blog on how to store your fresh produce…

Alicia Leonhardt, NTP
Alicia is an Associate Clinician at the Well of Life Center for Natural Health. The Well of Life Center is a holistic wellness center that specializes in nutrition, chiropractic, massage services, and more. Celebrating their 10th year in business, the Well of Life Center has locations in Doylestown and Bethlehem, as well as a Spa & Fitness center in Ottsville, PA. For more information, please visit welloflifecenter.com.