What to Buy Organic: An Easy Guide

Posted on November 8th, 2013 by in Healthy Living, Kripalu Kitchen

organicHow important is it to buy and eat organic produce? Does it really matter? According to nutritionist and Kripalu Healthy Living faculty member John Bagnulo, PhD, MPH, when it comes to certain foods, it’s essential.

This is an issue I’ve often hemmed and hawed over—and, to be honest, when faced with the choice of cheap, delicious-looking produce at Trader Joe’s or at my local Asian market, I often opt for what’s on sale, not what’s organic.

But after my weeklong Nutrition and Cooking Immersion with John and Kripalu Executive Chef Jeremy Smith, I can truly say that my attitude has changed. The pesticides, GMOs, and other toxins often found in non-organic foods can overload the system—contributing to food allergies, inflammation, and disease, while also affecting our overall mood and general well-being.

If you, like most of us, need to pick and choose what foods you buy and eat organic, here’s help.

The Dirty Dozen

Published by the Environmental Working Group, this list includes the 12 fruits and vegetables that you should always buy organic, because they contain the highest levels of toxic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. While the list changes frequently, here’s where it stands now:

Apples

Celery

Cherry tomatoes

Cucumbers

Grapes

Hot peppers

Nectarines (imported)

Peaches

Potatoes

Spinach

Strawberries

Bell Peppers

And a few more—while kale, collard greens, and summer squash do not meet the traditional Dirty Dozen criteria, they are “commonly contaminated with pesticides exceptionally toxic to the nervous system,” according to the Environmental Working Group.

The Clean Fifteen

Some good news: These items are low in pesticides and other toxins, even when grown conventionally.

Asparagus

Avocado

Cabbage

Cantaloupe

Eggplant

Grapefruit

Kiwi

Mango

Mushrooms

Onion

Papaya*

Pineapple

Sweet peas (frozen)

Sweet potatoes

Sweet corn*

*However, the EWG adds the GMO crops likely to be found in American “supermarkets are zucchini, Hawaiian papaya and some varieties of sweet corn. Only a small fraction of sweet corn is GMO.”

While John disagrees (“almost all sweet corn that is not organic is GMO, for sure”) he and the EWG both suggest “since U.S. law does not require labeling of GMO produce, people who want to avoid it to purchase the organically-grown versions of these items.”

Join John Bagnulo and Jeremy Smith for the next Nutrition and Cooking Immersion.

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About Jennifer Mattson

Jennifer Mattson is a journalist, writer, yogini, and kirtan junkie. A former volunteer resident at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, she’s a former broadcast news producer for CNN and National Public Radio. Her reporting and writing have appeared in The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, USA Today and the Women’s Review of Books.
  • Lovelivewell

    Sweet Corn has the worst pesticides right in the seed! CORN is the largest GMO food product on the market.. I LOVE NJ Sweet Corn, but boycotted it this past summer. If I can’t find organic corn (and I can’t), I don’t eat it.

    • KripaluEditor

      Hi Lovelivewell,

      According to the EWG, only a small fraction of zucchini and sweet corn are GMO, so one would need to be conscious in sourcing produce. http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
      -Kim from Kripalu

  • dxnation

    Thank you for the list. It will help many like us who are conscious about what goes in our plates.

    • KripaluEditor

      Thanks for reading and commenting, dxnation!