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8 Foods You Should Always Buy Organic (Plus What’s Safe to Buy Non-Organic)

Every time you go grocery shopping, you’re probably faced with the same dilemma: to buy organic or not to buy organic? There are many opinions out there on which is truly better, but studies agree organic food is healthier and safer, and studies even argue organic foods taste better.

But let’s be real – buying all organic groceries gets expensive fast. While it’s best to avoid pesticides and buy only organic produce, for most people that is often not realistic, especially for those on a budget and/or in areas where it’s not widely accessible.

No need to panic in the produce section! This article is here to help you make decisions on which foods you should actually buy organic, and which foods are ok to buy conventional.

Read Organic vs Natural vs GMO Foods and What You Need to Know About Each


The Main Health Benefits of Organic Food

We often hear organic food is “better,” but what exactly does that mean? While organic foods have positive environmental benefits such as keeping soil healthy, organic foods also help protect our own health.

Organic food means it was grown without the use of pesticides. Often, toxic pesticides used to keep pests away end up on the crops themselves and remain as a residue on the food. By choosing to eat organic, you lower your intake of pesticides.

By choosing to eat organic, you lower your intake of pesticides.

Several studies show a change in diet towards organic rather than conventionally-grown food reduces the amount of pesticides in your body.

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Eating organic is an important way to protect yourself from the negative impacts of pesticides, which may include lowered fertility, increased risk of cancer, and increased risk of diabetes.

These Are 8 Foods You Should Always Buy Organic:

Some foods are more likely than others to have pesticide residues – so you don’t have to buy everything organic! Here is a list of foods you should buy organic whenever possible.

1. Tangerines

Hold off on those delicious, conventionally-grown tangerines or oranges. According to the Environmental Working Group’s 2021 report, over 90% of the citrus fruits they sampled contained imazalil, a fungicide.

Imazalil is most commonly used on citrus and bananas, and around 6000 pounds of the substance is used every year. However, since 1999, the EPA has classified imazalil as a “likely human carcinogen.”

2. Strawberries

Just saying the word “strawberry” conjures images of sweet, pink, deliciousness and delightful summer picnics. But the truth behind conventionally-grown strawberries is not so sweet.

The USDA tested samples of non-organic strawberries in 2015, and found strawberries contained an average of 7.8 different pesticides per sample (compared to only 2.2 per sample for other produce). While some berries are tested for safety, these tests may not include testing for the presence of pesticides.

Studies show a change in diet towards organic reduces the amount of pesticides in your body.

Strawberries are the produce item most likely to have pesticide residue, and should definitely be bought organic.

3. Kale

While kale is often the go-to health food, non-organic kale might not be so healthy after all. Kale, in addition to collard and mustard greens, have been shown to contain residues of the herbicide DCPA (often referred to as Dacthal).

The EPA deemed DCPA a “possible human carcinogen” and it was banned outright in the EU. DCPA is not the only danger with kale, unfortunately. In fact, the EWG found that a single sample of kale included nearly 20 different pesticides.



4. Peppers

bell peppers
From bell peppers to hot peppers, pesticides are found at high levels. Two of the most common pesticides found on peppers are acephate and chlorpyrifos, which are both insecticides.

While these chemicals are banned on some crops in the U.S. and are fully totally banned in the EU, they are still widely used in the U.S.

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5. Spinach

While spinach is an extremely healthy, nutrient-packed vegetable, it’s another one that’s important to buy organic. USDA testing found that non-organic spinach contains high numbers of pesticide residues.

One sample even tested positive for nineteen different pesticides! The most concerning result is that 76% of the spinach samples contained permethrin residue, which is an insecticide that can severely damage the nervous system at high doses.

6. Apples

Poison apples are not just a thing of fairy tales! Apples contain an average of 4.4 pesticide residues, including diphenylamine. Diphenylamine is a chemical used to protect apples’ skin while in storage.

Some foods are more likely to have pesticide residues than others – so you don’t have to buy absolutely everything organic!

The toxicity of this chemical is subject to debate, but it has been restricted on specific products imported into the EU due to the uncertainty surrounding diphenylamine’s safety and the possibility of cancer.

7. Nectarines

Nectarines are another culprit that often have pesticide residues. The USDA found 33 pesticide residues on nectarines, including several that are known or probable carcinogens, several that are neurotoxins, and several hormone disruptors.

Additionally, pesticides found on nectarines and other produce items often contain honeybee toxins that kill bees, which are important pollinators.

8. Grapes

Both red and green grapes are known as some of the most “polluted” fruits, as 87% of grape samples tested by the Pesticide Action Network were found to have residues of multiple pesticides.

While the EU has created maximum legal limits for these pesticides, many grapes grown in the US (and even in Europe) still contain these pesticides.

To Buy Organic or Not to Buy? What Should I Do?

Try your best to buy organic when you’re buying the fruits and veggies listed above. But no need to get all your produce organic! There are many items with low amounts of pesticide residue, and considered to be fairly safe for you to buy non-organic.

Some common produce you do not need to buy organic:

  • Avocados
  • Corn
  • Pineapple
  • Onions
  • Papaya
  • Frozen sweet peas
  • Eggplant
  • Asparagus

You can find more information and a full list of foods you should buy organic, as well as a list of “clean” produce on the Environmental Working Group website.

This is important: whether your produce is organic or conventional, make sure you always wash it before eating it. This helps remove any dirt or germs from the fruit. Ideally you do this with a produce wash, but even a simple wash with water alone may help get rid of pesticide residues on some types of produce.

The real takeaway is to do what you can. While it would be great, it’s not necessarily reasonable to expect all of us to be able to buy entirely organic food.

Instead, next time you’re stocking up on delicious fruits and vegetables, keep these lists in mind! Making informed food-buying decisions will benefit your health down the line.

The views expressed are those of the author and should be attributed solely to the author. For medical questions, please consult your healthcare provider.

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Lena Milton

Lena Milton is a freelance writer covering sustainability and wellness. She writes to help readers address the environmental, health, and ethical challenges in every day life. She is lucky enough to have been practicing yoga since she was 4 years old. When she's not writing, you'll probably find her outside, hiking, doing yoga, or rock climbing.

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