The dirt on organic produce

"Are organic foods better for you?" "Are they worth the extra cost?" or "I want to reduce my exposure to pesticides, which fruits and vegetables have the most residues?"

People often ask me if they should buy organic fruits and vegetables. Some of the common questions I get include: “Are organic foods better for you?” “Are they worth the extra cost?” or “I want to reduce my exposure to pesticides, which fruits and vegetables have the most residues?”

I always start by ensuring people that a diet high in plant based foods has many health benefits including reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other health problems. The benefits of consuming adequate amounts of fruits and veggies outweigh the risk of pesticide exposure. So regardless of whether you choose conventionally grown produce or organic, the main goal should be to get a minimum of seven-10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.  One serving equals one piece of fruit or vegetable or 1/2 cup chopped.

However, if you are looking to reduce your exposure to pesticides and it’s within your budget to purchase organic then I think it’s worth it. It’s even better if you can purchase your organic food from a local source. Choosing local foods and buying organic when possible supports a more sustainable food system and allows the industry to grow.

We are entering the time of year where local food is becoming abundant in our province so take advantage of your local farmers markets. The thing I love about the farmers market is you can talk directly to the person who grows your food! You can inquire about their farming practices and use of pesticides (if any). Some foods tend to be more heavily treated as they are difficult to grow without getting bugs in them (if you have a cherry tree you probably know what I mean). However, other fruits and vegetables tend to be more naturally ‘bug free’ and require little or no treatment. You can significantly lower your pesticide intake by limiting the most contaminated produce (or buying them organic) and eating more of the least contaminated fruits and vegetables.

The Environmental Working Group recently released the 2011 ‘Shoppers Guide to Pesticide in Produce’. It is important to consider this as a general guide, not a hard and fast rule, as pesticide levels on foods can vary depending on where and how they are grown. The list was created based on studies done in the U.S. on local and imported fruits and vegetables. Nearly all of the studies tested produce after it had been rinsed or peeled. For a more extensive list of foods and a downloadable shoppers guide visit

Dirty Dozen: Apples, Celery, Strawberries, Peaches, Spinach, Nectarines, Grapes, Bell pepper, Potatoes, Blueberries, Lettuce, and Kale.

Clean 15 (tend to be lowest in pesticide); Onion, Corn, Pineapple, Avocado, Asparagus, Sweet Peas, Mango, Egg Plant, Cantaloupe, Kiwi, Cabbage, Watermelon, Sweet Potato, Grapefruit, and Mushrooms.

– Simone Jennings