Buying organic is good for your health and beneficial for the planet, but not all fruits and vegetables respond to organic farming practices in the same ways. Some foods are just as clean and healthy when not farmed organically, and in these cases you may want to save the extra pennies by opting to buy non-organic. For example, vegetables with thick skins—such as avocados, pineapple, mangoes, oranges, and bananas—usually aren’t affected either way by organic practices. To help you get a better sense of what types of fruits and vegetables most benefit from organic farming, here are a few items that experts recommend buying organic.
1. Celery: Celery works very much like a straw and is highly absorbent of any liquids that are in the soil and atmosphere. This means that whenever there are pesticides or other chemicals used in celery farming, those celery stalks are going to suck it right up. And the worst part is that these toxins can’t be washed off.
2. Strawberries: Non-organic strawberries have a few points counting against them. For one thing, because strawberries have a relatively short growing season, they’re often shipped in long-distance from foreign countries, where organic food regulations may not be the same (not to mention the increased carbon footprint resulting from the shipping). Also, many non-organic strawberries growers add captan, a fungicide that had been shown to contribute to cancer.
3. Peaches: Numerous studies of the most pesticide-tainted foods have placed peaches at the top due to their spongy texture and very thin skin, which presents a very ineffective barrier to outside chemicals. Non-organic peaches have the highest concentrations of organophosphate (an insecticide) and iprodione (a fungicide), both of which can be harmful to humans.
4. Bell peppers: Bell peppers also have very thin skins. And while they aren’t quite as absorbent as peaches, they do tend to suck up chemicals from the surrounding air and soil, and this puts them near the top of the list when it comes to chemical-tainted non-organic produce.
5. Pears: Many fruits are consistently subjected to stronger and stronger pesticides over the years as each successive generation of insects grows more resistant to the chemicals. Non-organic pears are among those fruits that now receive a harsh chemical drubbing. One study found that a typical non-organic pear is covered in 28 separate pesticides, and this only gets worse with time.
6. Leafy vegetables: Because most leafy greens grow close to the ground, they tend to get treated with large doses of insecticides to keep away pests that live on the ground. While there’s nothing wrong with keeping vegetables clean, many corporate farms have taken this to unreasonable levels, dousing their vegetables in huge amounts of chemicals. In the case of leafy greens, these chemicals can be hard to wash out of the wrinkled and pored surfaces.
7. Nectarines: Nectarines are very similar to peaches in that their skin is very thin and their pulp very absorbent. It doesn’t help that a typical nectarine is routinely treated with 33 different pesticides, which should be considered overkill by any rational standard. And because the fruit is so absorbent, you can’t just wash these things away. Any time you eat a nonorganic nectarine, you can bet that you’re putting lots of chemicals into your body.
8. Apples: The apple industry is huge, and in many areas it is controlled by huge factory-farming companies that have mastered the practices of keeping apples free of pests and physical flaws. A side effect of this is that a typical nonorganic apple is coated in a thick waxy residue that permeates through the fruit’s skin and is circulated through the insides. You can feel the waxy residue just by picking up any apple at the store, and unfortunately merely washing the apple doesn’t make it all better.
9. Blueberries: Blueberries have increasingly been touted as a superfood in health-food circles, which has led many produce companies to work to increase their yields of blueberries. As a result, many companies are exploring new ways to keep these fruits pest-free. The unfortunate side effect is that, according to a U.S. study, nonorganic blueberries are now treated with over 50 chemicals.
10. Potatoes: Potatoes are among the most chemically treated food plants due the relatively robust types of pests and fungi that grow where potatoes live (i.e., underground). Nonorganic potatoes can be hard to grow, which usually makes them much more expensive, but they’re worth the investment for the cleanliness factor.