Produce: The 14 items you MUST by organic and why

organic produce
Photo courtesy of
If you can’t purchase all organic produce, you should absolutely try to avoid certain conventional fruits and vegetables.
It’s true, organic produce is more expensive than conventional. However, you really get what you pay for when you buy it. Organic produce is grown without pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals that are toxic to both our bodies and our environment.

“Yeah, but I wash and/or peel my conventional produce, so it’s fine.”

This could not be more false. The chemicals penetrate the skins of fruits and veggies and get into the flesh itself. If it’s in the food, it ends up in YOU.

Some produce carries little risk of carrying pesticides/herbicides, as few are needed when crowing these crops. These include thicker skinned fruits like mangoes, avocados, cantaloupe, pineapple, and papaya, as well as heartier vegetables like cabbage, asparagus, and onions. Other conventional produce that use fewer pesticides include peas, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, kiwi, grapefruit, and eggplant (please note that even though they contain fewer pesticides, this does not mean they are not genetically modified.)

Unfortunately, the above are the rare exception. Also unfortunate is the price you have to pay to avoid chemicals being sprayed (and then absorbed) on your food. Organic produce is on average 40-50% more than their equivalent conventional alternatives.

The biggest problem is the fact that it is nearly impossible to avoid non-organic produce unless you only only eat the organic versions you buy for yourself every single time you eat fruits or vegetables- conventional crops are literally everywhere we go. In an ideal world, this would never be an issue, but the reality in the United States is that eating organically for every meal every single day is not an option, unless you NEVER go out to eat, never go to a party, a friend’s house, or on vacation. Like I said- conventional produce is EVERYWHERE!

There are many reasons that people are not eating organic produce 100% of the time, the two main being: 1. Limited access to organic produce due to a number of factors (mainly, what your local grocery stores carry) and 2. It costs too much!!
(I will be writing a post about what to do if you have no access to organic produce because it is not in any stores around you- keep a look out!)
So what can we do to help protect ourselves if we can’t do organic all the time?
Pick and choose your battles wisely. If it is not possible to buy everything organic, these are the fruits and veggies you absolutely SHOULD buy organic versions of:
Dirty dozen plus
Photo courtesy of
The above are the fruits and vegetables  are known as the “Dirty Dozen Plus,” named the Environmental Working Group, the organization that did the data analysis. These were most likely to be heavily contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals (in the United States).
“For the past nine years, EWG has scrutinized pesticide-testing data generated by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and federal Food and Drug Administration. These sources are the basis for EWG’s signature Dirty Dozen™ list of foods most commonly contaminated with pesticides…This year [2013], as in 2012, we have expanded the Dirty Dozen™ with a Plus category to highlight two crops – summer squashes and leafy greens – that did not meet traditional Dirty Dozen™ criteria but were commonly contaminated with highly toxic pesticides.”
A summary of what they found, taken directly from
  • Apples. The dirtiest of the bunch. Ninety-nine percent of apples contained at least one pesticide.
  • Sweet Bell Peppers. One of these was as contaminated as a single grape.
  • Celery. At worst, a single sample revealed 13 pesticides.
  • Cherry Tomatoes. Similar to celery, one sample also contained the residue of 13 different pesticides.
  • Cucumbers. The third most contaminated vegetable, these should always be peeled and rinsed before eating.
  • Grapes. “A single grape tested positive for 15 pesticides.”
  • Hot Peppers. Previously not on the list, recent tests showed these contain the seventh greatest amount of pesticide residues.
  • Nectarines (Imported). Every imported nectarine tested was shown to contain pesticide residue.
  • Peaches. Contained the fourth highest amount of pesticides among all fruits tested.
  • Potatoes. “The average potato had much higher total weight of pesticides than any other food crop.”
  • Spinach. After celery, the second most contaminated conventional vegetable.
  • Strawberries. Ranked as the second dirtiest conventionally grown fruit on the market.
Therefore, you should definitely try to buy the entire list from the “Dirty Dozen Plus” in their organic forms as opposed to conventional.
If you don’t know where to look, here is a great resource for finding stores that sell organic produce in the United States: Store Finder. Of course, check your local farmers markets or Co-ops too!

Now, how much will it cost to eat these if you purchase organic versions?
Here is a chart I made of the “Dirty Dozen Plus” with both their average conventional and organic prices (in the U.S.):
 organic produce chart
The prices were taken from a variety of sources through the internet, and were from a variety of years- there is no database that compiles all such yearly data (that I could find after hours of research!) Also, many of the prices reflect when the produce is IN SEASON. To get the best price, purchase organic produce when it’s in season.

GMO Note: The most genetically modified (GMO) crops used for produce in the U.S. are corn, soy, zucchini, yellow summer squash, and papaya (specifically Hawaiian grown). To avoid GMOs, purchase these items strictly in their organic forms.

Tip to being able to afford more organic produce: Give up something small in your everyday life that you don’t NEED. If you go get a daily cup of coffee on the go, maybe cut it down to every other day and use the dollars you save to put towards purchasing organic produce. Or if you like to go out to eat twice a week, make it once, and put what you saved towards your grocery bill. There are many little swaps we can all do to help us afford these (if not all) organic fruits and veggies.

To sum it up, I’ve taken the following paragraph from the same article as was used before:

“A recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health demonstrated that eating organic produce can significantly reduce bodily toxicity. The study provided five consecutive days’ worth of organic food to children who typically ate a non-organic, conventional diet. After just five days, almost all pesticides had disappeared from the subjects’ urine samples. ‘This shows there definitely is a beneficial effect of eating organic produce,’ said study leader Dr. Alex Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology.”


Now you have all the facts- it’s time to decide for yourself!



38 thoughts on “Produce: The 14 items you MUST by organic and why

  1. I completely agree with this post 100%! It is such a shame that a lot of people have no idea what organic actually means, but with posts like this it reaches more and more people!

    • Thanks! I’m trying to spread the word. Many think “organic” is a scam or for “hippies” and that has to change. This is the first generation that has a shorter life expectancy than their parents, and eating organically can most definitely help fix that.

  2. That’s so scary. I mean, I knew that non-organic produce carried pesticides, but I was one of those people who thought just washing them was good enough. I didn’t realize that there were so many pesticides used. This is a true eye opener for me. Thank you for sharing this.. ❤

    • You’re so welcome! It is truly terrifying. And to think, as a kid, my mom would always ask “Did you wash it first?” and I’d say “yeah, yeah” but I didn’t- I thought washing was for removing dirt, and since they never looked “dirty” I didn’t care. I never thought of pesticides. I wonder how many people do the same! I’m making up for it now at least 🙂

  3. Strawberries are terrifying I learned all about them in a botany class. The workers have to wear something similar to a hazmat suit to when working around them because of the type of pesticide they use on them.
    I found a great way to get a variety of organic produce in the US. It is through a program called Bountiful Baskets. It is in most states and what you do is pay $25 dollars for a basket of organic produce. The baskets are generally themed so you can use the produce all together if you want. They also have a bunch of add on options. If you don’t have one in your state you can talk to them about how to start one. Here is there link

  4. Thank you so much for this extremely useful post! It is absolutely true that we can’t always afford organic products, but it’s very important to choose carefully what we eat…

  5. Although I will add that organic prices are considerably lower than it was when I first started buying it 13 years ago! 😉 Also, don’t always assume that organic is more expensive, sometimes it’s the same price or even lower than conventional, especially if it’s on special. And buying from local organic farms can help too.
    Great article to encourage people to eat organic as much as possible 🙂

    • Thanks so much. I completely agree with you! The prices above were just averages- mangoes at my market are the same price, organic or conventional! Bananas are 20 cents more, mushrooms are 50 cents more, so often it’s very doable. Avocados can be hit or miss, it’s odd. It’s the broccoli and leafy greens that are a lot more by me, but we do get a lot out of buying spinach in bulk. I was just checking out the smaller grocery store in my parents’ town to see what they offer, and though they did have some (some) organic produce, the prices were much higher than they are at my own store, a larger company (Wegmans). Conventional bananas are 49 cents at my store, organic are 69, and at my parents’ they were 99, and we live in the same part of New Jersey, the land where everything is accessible (for the most part!) How are prices by you?

      • I get a weekly organic delivery, so I don’t know the prices at the grocery store off by heart! lol But I know sometimes in the summer I might get some organic strawberries at the store and the price is very similar to conventional. I go through a LOT of veggies since I juice every morning, so I get a big bag of organic carrots (20 lbs) for $24, which lasts us about 7-10 days, and then I get about $60-75 of other veggies and fruits per week. (I’m in Canada)

      • Wow that’s so great that you have access to the delivery. Are you in or near a city? And are your prices Canadian dollars? I’m so fascinated by the variation from country to country.

      • Yes, I am very lucky to have access to an organic produce delivery service! There are more and more of these companies everywhere, so you might want to search in your area, you never know! 🙂
        And yes, my prices are in CAN $, which I’m sure is a bigger number than in US $.

  6. Great post – it’s so important to go organic and eliminate toxins. It’s good to keep seeing these lists to help memorize them. I wish others (restaurants included) would hop on board, too! Perhaps prices will eventually start decreasing. Until then, I’m trying to pinch the budget elsewhere to make up for it. But it’s an investment in your health, right? 🙂

    • Exactly. I can’t wait to share all of my tips for saving! As I mentioned above, I rarely purchase coffee, I make it at home (organic coffee, organic milk, organic sweetener and it’s STILL cheaper!!!!) And restaurants are so tough. We barely go out, pretty much just to celebrate things; that way we can afford to eat more organics! The prices have gone down significantly according to EyePopperCandy, so that’s good news! How are the prices by you? I’m so fascinated to see what they are all over the place. New Jersey is complicated, we have a very high cost of living unfortunately, but we have more access to more things than the average state so it’s a toss-up when it comes to pricing with us.

      • Prices aren’t the worst where I’m at, but they’re certainly not cheap – I’d say we certainly lean towards the pricier end of the scale, though. I’m lucky to have a local natural foods store, which helps to get a few things semi-affordably. I dream of areas like San Fran where there are tons of farmer’s markets and co-op’s.

  7. Great post! I buy all organic and it is expensive. But it’s worth every penny I spend. I teach essential oil classes and I never leave off telling people about the benefits of eating organic and improving their diets for better health. We are what we eat! 🙂

  8. Great post Jenn! Thank you for all that information. I always pay attention to the dirty dozen, I just won’t buy them if not organic!

  9. Oh my goodness, this post is exactly what I need this month (and really, forever)! I am so glad you stopped by and I can’t wait to check out all of your posts!

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