While eating nothing but organic foods is an easy way to limit your family's exposure to pesticides and toxins, there are times when it is not always possible to eat a totally organic diet. If you find yourself forced to make choices, whether through financial or other reasons, make sure you purchase the foods that are considered the most important to eat organic.
Fruits and vegetables are often grown with toxic levels of pesticides and chemicals. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as much as 1.5 billion pounds of pesticides are used on crops yearly. The EPA reports pesticide use as one of America's worst environmental and health concerns.
Research from the Environmental Working Group reports that some fruits and veggies retain massive amounts of pesticides whether you wash them carefully or not; this is the produce to avoid.
The Food and Drug Administration periodically conducts residue monitoring tests on the crops of farmers around 100 different countries. What they test for are harmful chemicals, such as pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, that remain on the produce even after washing. After testing, the FDA then rates the foods on a scale of one to 100. A low rating represents the foods with the least amount of residual chemical residue, and as the rating increases, so too does the amount of harmful chemicals.
A rating of 100 or near 100 represent the worst foods, and therefore the ones that you should be purchasing organic.
Produce: Dirty Dozen Items
Produce frequently has the highest levels of pesticides, with a dozen different products getting the highest ratings on the FDA's test. These items are referred to as the dirty dozen.
According to a recent testing, apples rated an 89, with over 50 percent of the chemicals found on the tested apples to be neurotoxins.
The FDA gave domestically grown cherries a rating of 75. The study found that cherries grown in the United States contain significantly more pesticides and harmful chemicals than those that are imported.
The grapes that rate higher on the list are those that are imported. Domestic grapes have a rating of 43, which is not great, but not bad enough to make the list. Imported grapes, on the other hand, have a rating of 65.
No matter where they are from, peaches are the worst culprit and number one on the FDA's list, with a rating of 100. This means, of all the produce on the list, peaches retain the highest amount of harmful residual chemicals.
The residual chemical level of the sister to the peach is a little lower at 84. This is probably attributed to the firmer and less porous skin of the fruit.
The type of pears aren't specified in the FDA report, but most pear skin is similar in thickness and texture, so it's safe to assume that the rating of 65 applies to all types of pears.
7. Lettuce is also susceptible to insect infestation and is heavily treated with chemicals. The FDA gives lettuce a rating of 59.
It's no surprise the strawberries make the list. This favorite summer fruit has extremely soft skin and grows on vines at ground level. Like grapes, strawberries are very susceptible to mold and are therefore one of the most heavily chemically treated fruits in the country. The FDA gave strawberries a rating of 82.
9. Bell Peppers
The FDA testing was conducted on all types of bell peppers. Their resulting test score was an 86.
Celery is another type of produce that grows close to the ground and, as a result, not only do the pesticides and herbicides get on the celery, so, too, do the fertilizers and other chemicals applied to the ground. Celery has a rating of 85.
Coming in at 58, potatoes have the lowest rating of all the produce on this list.
Delicate spinach leaves are extremely susceptible to infestation of harmful insects and are one of the most heavily treated crops. Spinach has an FDA rating of 60.
The USDA does not currently test meats for all possible chemicals, which can mean that there are pesticides or chemicals in meats not currently shown in tests. However, there are other good reasons to purchase organic meat.
The real reason to buy organic meats stems from antibiotic and hormone use; both are banned in certified organic meats. One major issue with antibiotics used for animals is that the use can breed disease-resistant forms of bacteria. So, if an animal can't fight a disease as well, the meat you buy may still have the disease present.
Enjoy Nutritional Benefits
Another benefit of organic meats is that they are lower in saturated fats and higher in omega-3 because, according to eco-label, animals raised on grasses and natural feed are healthier. Fish is one food item that is safe in its conventional form as well as organic.
When it comes to cheese, milk, yogurt and other dairy foods, the same issues that occur with meat come into play. If it comes from an animal, then you have to consider what goes into that animal. High levels of antibiotics and hormones have been found in conventional dairy products. If you can, try to buy all your dairy organic.
The need to buy organic is far less urgent in the grain-based food group than any other. Most grains, including breads, pastas and cereals, have been found to be very low in concentrated pesticides.
One exception is rice. Various studies note that more pesticides are found in rice than other grains perhaps because of growing conditions (standing water). Luckily, organic rice is almost as cheap as conventional, especially if you buy in bulk. There are plenty of organic grain choices available, but this is one area where you can save money if you like and buy conventional.
Make Informed Decisions
A smart decision is keep up with the organic market and organic food news. By teaching yourself about foods that are most impacted by pesticide and chemical use, you can make important and healthy food choices for you and your family. The Organic Consumers Association has a food safety page where you can learn about important organic food updates and find organic food resources and research.