Question from our inbox:

My question is in regards to organic fruits and vegetables. Should I spend the extra money and buy all my fruits and vegetables organic?

Thanks, MGB

The answer to your question is NO; it is not necessary to buy ALL your fruits and vegetables from the organic section of your local grocer, especially if resources are limited. Before you panic, let me explain. First in order for a fruit or vegetable to be certified organic, they must be grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, or sewage sludge. The produce must also be processed without irradiation or additives. While there are few if any proven health impacts from consuming trace quantities of pesticides on foods, the current recommendations issued by The President’s Cancer Panel encourages eating produce without pesticides in order to reduce your risk of getting cancer and other diseases. And according to the Environmental Working Group (an organization of scientists, researchers and policymakers), certain types of organic produce can reduce the amount of toxins you consume on a daily basis by as much as 80 percent.

The Environmental Working Group put together two lists, “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Clean 15,” to help consumers know when they should buy organic and when it is unnecessary.

The fruits and vegetables on “The Dirty Dozen” list, when conventionally grown, tested positive for at least 47 different chemicals, with some testing positive for as many as 67. For produce on the “dirty” list, you should definitely go organic if at all possible.  

“The Dirty Dozen” list includes:

— celery

— peaches

— strawberries

— apples

— domestic blueberries

— nectarines

— sweet bell peppers

— spinach, kale and collard greens

— cherries

— potatoes

— imported grapes

— lettuce

All the produce on “The Clean 15” had little to no traces of pesticides, and is safe to consume in non-organic form.

 “The Clean 15” list includes:

— onions

— avocados

— sweet corn

— pineapples

— mango

— sweet peas

— asparagus

— kiwi fruit

— cabbage

— eggplant

— cantaloupe

— watermelon

— grapefruit

— sweet potatoes

— sweet onions

The data used to create the Shopper’s Guide are from produce tested as it is typically eaten. This means washed and, when applicable, peeled. For example, bananas were peeled before testing, and blueberries and peaches were washed. Because all produce has been thoroughly cleaned before analysis, washing a fruit or vegetable would not change its rank in the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide. Remember, if you don’t wash conventional produce, the risk of ingesting pesticides is even greater than reflected by USDA test data.

The Environmental Working group has not evaluated various produce washes for efficacy or potentially toxicity. However, since some plants absorbed pesticides through their stems, a produce wash would have limited effect. The safest choice is to use the Shopper’s Guide to avoid conventional versions of those fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues.

With all this being said, please don’t stop eating your fruits and vegetables. The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Use EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides to reduce your exposures as much as possible, but eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all. The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticide in Produce will help you determine which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticide residues and are the most important to buy organic. You can lower your pesticide intake substantially by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated produce.

If you have a nutrition question you’d like answered in this column or if you’d like to schedule an appointment. Contact the office at (706) 473-5801 or email us at

Lisa Eisele, RD, CSO, LD is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian.

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