Health - Diet & Nutrition
By: - at July 30, 2013

Top 15 Organic Produce That's Better Than Conventional

Organic foods

For many years now, there have been many debates over whether buying organic is better for you than conventional foods. Organic certainly sounds better. It might be just a buzzword of the day for some people, another way to feel superior over non-recycling gas guzzlers, but does it actually make a difference to the quality of the food? Many people say yes ó but to be honest, many of them are the same people who try to convince their friends that yes, granola does taste better than candy bars if you just find the right granola.

Of course, there are some merits to buying organic over conventional. Apart from the much-touted environmental impact of many pesticides, there are a whole bunch of reasons to buy organic ó that is, to buy certain foods organic. While the impact on the earth may be substantial for things like organic wheat and organic cat food, many people are much more concerned with the effect that pesticides (from conventional produce) have on their internal systems as well as those of their families. Yes, there are good reasons to buy certain foods organic, and those foods generally tend to be whole fruits and vegetables.

By soaking up all of the precipitation and surrounding pesticides left over from killing crop-damaging bugs, many whole conventional fruits and vegetables are susceptible to picking up something else as well ó a lot of pesticides that arenít entirely safe to eat. The foods on this list are the ones that are the most important to buy organic.

15)  Organic Kale
Alright. Chances are that if youíre thinking about buying organic, youíre already eating more kale than the average person. For everyone out there gleefully cramming handfuls of non-organic kale into their mouths, it may be time to stop (for at least a few reasons).

Kale is very healthy, but it's not a great food to buy off the non-organic rack. All the fantastic antioxidants and vitamins that make it such a staple of a healthy cupboard arenít too great when stacked up against the possibility of pesticides. These veggies tend to soak up a lot of pesticides, given the average water intake and how fast it gets flushed to the capillaries of each weird knobbly leaf.

Fresh Organic Kale
fresh organic kale

If you happen upon a bunch of organic kale at a farmerís market or a large supermarket, you may be a bit stumped if youíre not familiar with how to work with it. There are many kinds of kale, from regular leafy dark green kale to the far more visually intriguing ďdinosaur kale,Ē as well as the somewhat-aptly named rainbow kale (which is pretty much just green and purple). There are a lot of ways people eat kale, some more delicious than others. One way to best preserve the nutrients in this leafy green is to wash thoroughly (even if youíve bought it organic), chop it into smallish pieces, and steam it for between 10-15 minutes. It will have a rougher texture than a lot of greens and a deep, nutty taste.

Another way to eat kale for the less nutritiously-inclined is in kale chips. Rip the kale into bite-sized pieces, toss with olive oil and salt, and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. It might not be a replacement for potato chips, but it will make even a health nut admit that chips can taste good.

Organic Kale Chips
organic kale chips

14)  Organic Collard Greens
No, this entire list will not be about leafy green vegetables. All conventional leafy greens, however, are definitely susceptible to being contaminated with pesticides because of the amount of water they soak up. Thatís one of the reasons leafy greens are so healthy; theyíre essentially just water, healthy chlorophyll, fiber, and other nutrients. If youíve ever heard myths about foods you can eat that take more calories to chew and digest than they give you through digestion, leafy greens are probably the closest you can come to a real-life example. The amount of nutrition packed into them, in Vitamin A, Vitamin B and Vitamin C is a huge incentive, not to mention how crammed full they are of essential minerals like iron.

fresh collard greens

Unfortunately, collard greens are generally popular and eaten in the south. If you live in the south, youíre probably well aware that itís not the most organic-friendly place to shop. If youíre lucky, youíll be able to hit up a local farmerís market a few times this summer. If not, just make sure you wash your collard greens very thoroughly and very carefully before chopping them up and serving them. You could be washing away quite a lot of pesticides that have hidden in the little nooks, crannies and capillaries of the greens. Washing wonít completely do away with pesticides but itís a decently good start on the path to a healthier pantry.

13)  Organic American-Grown Summer Squash
For once, the thing to beware is the sign ďgrown in America.Ē Imported summer squash is usually not grown with pesticides and domestically-sourced summer squash is usually pumped full of the stuff. If youíre not totally familiar with summer squash, itís zucchini and the little yellow squashes that kind of taste and feel like zucchini but (probably) arenít. Sometimes they come in weird shapes and colors, and have odd little names like ďpatapan,Ē which doesnít sound like something most people would want to eat.

Fresh assorted Summer Squash
fresh assorted summer squash

The good news is that when summer squash are in season, theyíre pretty much everywhere. Every organic farmerís market offers bushels of them for low prices, for the easy reason that theyíre incredibly simple to grow in a large variety of soil. Try them chopped up and sautťed with a splash of soy sauce as a great accompaniment to fish or steak on a summer evening. Alternatively, try slicing or peeling them very thin and serving them as if they were a healthy sort of pasta. It sounds strange, but with enough cheese and marinara, you wonít even miss the carbs.

Squash shredded and cooked like pasta
cooked spagetti squash

12)  Organic Hot Peppers
Hot peppers arenít the kind of fruits or vegetables that most people would think of first when it comes to foods that should be purchased organically. One of the reasons for that is that most people who cook with them (in non-Mexican dishes) use them so sparingly that itís difficult to see why they should bother buying organic peppers.

Fresh organic hot pepper

However, conventional peppers are one of the biggest risks for pesticide contamination. Theyíre frequently imported in such large quantities that it can be difficult to know for sure whether a pepper is organic or not, so make sure to check the supermarket-assigned sticker.

If youíre going to use hot peppers to cook Mexican food, itís very important that you make the effort to buy them from an organic grocer or at least from the organic section of the grocery store. The skin of a pepper is so thin that it makes it easy for the pesticides in soil to leak up through the porous skin and then saturate the softer membranes of the pepper itself. Seeds are not exempt, and in non-organic peppers, can be one of the most concentrated sources of pesticides.

11)  Organic Cherry Tomatoes
Bad news, salad fans: conventional cherry tomatoes love sucking up all the pesticides they can get from the soil in which they grow. These little bite-size jewels are so good at sucking up the pesticides that itís highly recommended to only eat them when you can find them organically. While this might be easy to do in late summer when the bumper crop comes in, itís more difficult to do during the winter or in a restaurant where theyíre served as a garnish to almost everything.

fresh raw organic cherry tomatoes

Surprisingly enough, regular-sized conventional tomatoes arenít at too much of a risk for soaking up lots of pesticides. The thicker stem makes it easier for them to filter out too many pesticides before they soak into the membranes, and a thicker skin means that they arenít absorbing as many pesticides from contact with the earth itself.

Someone has probably told you that itís very easy to grow a tomato plant in your window or yard with no gardening experience. Knowing how easy it is to bite down on a ripe hunk of pesticides when you buy cherry tomatoes from the store, you might even want to look into getting a hanging planter. At least then youíll know exactly what went into the little guys. As an added bonus: youíll never find fresher produce than the one thatís hanging in your window.

10)  Organic Potatoes
Potatoes are very different from most root vegetables. Thatís good, because you probably wouldnít want to walk into your favorite burger joint and order a quarter-pounder and parsnip fries. However, some of the things that make potatoes different from other root vegetables are things that put them at a much higher risk for pesticide contamination than their rooty brethren.

fresh raw organic potatoes

For one thing, while potatoes grow in the ground, theyíre chock full of water. As usual, the fruits and vegetables that soak up the most water are the most likely to soak up a lot of pesticides along with it. For another thing, potatoes have a surprisingly thin skin compared to many other root vegetables. Compare a potatoís skin with the skin of a beet, a rutabaga or even a yam. By contrast, the skin of a potato is so thin that a vigorous scrubbing with a sponge can rub it right off (using russet potatoes as an example). That thin skin means itís more porous, and more of the nutrients ó and pesticides ó in the dirt can seep in.

Try buying your potatoes organic. Theyíre such an inexpensive staple food that it takes little effort to convert this purchase, and it can be a huge boost to your health to avoid ingesting all that contaminated fiber and starch from the conventional variety.

9)  Organic Cucumbers
Cucumbers are sort of ubiquitous. Itís hard to imagine salads, sandwiches or even sushi without the cool crunch of a cucumber. However, these moisture-laden veggies are at a very high risk for being contaminated with pesticides. Donít be fooled by how thick the skin of a cucumber seems to be in the supermarket. Shockingly enough, almost every major chain supermarket buys their cucumbers encased in a thin layer of wax and other products before being shipped. Thatís because the skin of a cucumber is actually so delicate that itís almost impossible to ship and display them without bruising or damaging the delicate skin.

fresh raw organic sliced cucumbers

Not only are these methods kind of gross (the wax doesnít come off with a simple rinse), but theyíre also bad news for any vegan or vegetarian who has a hankering for cucumbers. Yes, the outer coating of a cucumber may not only contain wax ó those ďother productsĒ mentioned can include shellac (made from the excretions of the lac beetle) and milk casein. Itís not vegan, not organic, and certainly not appetizing to think about. If you canít get to an organic section, peel conventional cucumbers before eating them if you donít want to be exposed to all of that.

8)  Organic Imported Nectarines
This one is a stark contrast to the problem with domestic summer squash. In America, pesticides arenít used so heavily on nectarines, because we donít have nearly as many bugs that tend to try and eat the trees on which they grow. Imported conventional nectarines, however, are susceptible to another host of bugs and parasites. In order to combat them, farmers in other countries (primarily Mexico and countries in South America, such as Chile) routinely spray their nectarine trees with pesticides in order to kill the bugs. This can result in a loss of up to 30 percent of the entire crop due to problems with pesticides, but many are harvested on the borderline of acceptable and not acceptable. This is another fantastic reason to buy your nectarines organic, or at the very least, domestic. Not everyone can have a fruit stand in the back yard, but almost everyone can access the organic section of a major supermarket.

fresh raw organic nectarines

If youíve only ever had nectarines whole and raw, try baking them sliced into a cobbler or pie. It sounds a little odd, but theyíre very close in nature to peaches. For a chewier, more fibrous experience, leave the skins on. For a much softer mouthful, peel the nectarines before cooking them.

7)  Organic Sweet Bell Peppers
You already know from this list that hot peppers are much better to buy organic, when at all possible. However, sweet bell peppers are even more important to buy organic when you have the opportunity. For one thing, many more sweet bell peppers are consumed in the U.S., and in a much larger quantity per capita. Secondly, unlike hot peppers, sweet bell peppers are frequently eaten raw. The conventional green, red and yellow kinds are unfortunately all at risk for high pesticide contamination and itís best to buy them organically.

Raw organic bell peppers
fresh raw organic bell peppers

If youíre sick of eating peppers raw, try stuffing them full of your favorite pasta filling and baking them. Ricotta cheese, mushrooms, and spices make a fantastic filling for just about anything, and sweet bell peppers are no exception. These peppers also hold up very well to being grilled alongside chicken or steak at your next cookout. One method for doing this is to simply lay the pepper on the open flame until itís somewhat charred, then flip it over. The skin of the pepper protects it from being harmed by the actual flame and the inside achieves a fantastic caramelization. Another option for grilling is to make a hunk of sweet bell pepper part of a skewer with meat and other vegetables.

Organic bell peppers grilled in kebabs with chicken
cooked bell peppers kebabs with chicken

6)  Organic Spinach
The most popular of all the leafy greens, besides lettuce, is also the most susceptible to pesticide contamination. Spinach has some of the thinnest, most delicate leaves among all vegetables, which puts it at massive risk for contamination by water carrying pesticides. The nature of spinach, and the fact that it soaks up so much water into its delicate leaves contributes to the fact that itís one of the most important vegetables to buy organic.

Fresh organic spinach in a garden
fresh organic spinach garden

If your only thought of spinach is the stuff youíve seen Popeye chug out of a can, think again. The boiled and chopped spinach might be a staple of Sunday dinner at your great-grandmotherís house, but this leafy green has been reinvented by a new generation of foodies. Used in place of lettuce for salad, baby spinach packs a huge punch of vitamins and minerals, and has an intriguing texture that isnít too different from other leafy greens as to make it seem weird. The taste is another selling point; even kids that wonít touch a lettuce salad might eat a salad made out of baby spinach, as long as they arenít told what it really is. Or, try mixing it up with tuna fish for a classic salad nicoise to impress guests at a dinner party. The dark look and fresh taste makes it an intriguing blend to use with fruit salads, so try pairing it with strawberries for a fun summer salad.

Organic spinach, strawberry and walnut salad
spinach strawberry walnut salad organic

5)  Organic Peaches
Peaches are one of the more popular fruits in America, and for good reason. Not only are they commonly grown locally, theyíre sweet and just the slightest bit tangy, as well as being a staple of many classic American recipes, such as peach cobbler and peach pie. These fruits arenít quite as hardy as their cousins, the nectarines, however. The skin of a peach, that infamous fuzzy covering, is incredibly soft and porous. Unlike cucumbers, the skin is so delicate and the texture is so unique that it cannot be covered by wax in order to transport. Massive amounts of peaches are lost every year due to excessive bruising in transit, so itís understandable that farmers want to keep as many of them viable as possible by spraying for bugs and other contaminants.

fresh organic peaches

Unfortunately, thatís the reason that peaches are some of the worst fruits and vegetables to buy in a non-organic section. The porous skin that is so famous and easy to pull off becomes way more of a liability than a benefit when it comes to soaking up pesticides. If you can possibly afford and manage to buy your peaches organic, do so. Itís one of the most important foods that you can buy organic, and with good reason. Especially if your household consumes a lot of peaches yearly, thatís a lot of pesticides that can add up if you go the conventional route.

4)  Organic Celery
Is there a food with a higher water content than celery? Well, yes. Watermelon contains over 90 percent water, but the point is celery contains a great deal of water. Itís also commonly served to children as one of the mildest-tasting vegetables ó who can forget eating ďants on a log,Ē raisins on peanut butter on a stick of celery? Itís great for dipping, great for snacking, and great for an on-the-go lifestyle. As one of those foods that takes more energy to digest than you consume calorically by eating it, itís also a traditionally great choice for dieters.

organic green celery

Unfortunately, all that water content means water constantly cycling through the celery stalk all through the growing process. The more water is cycled during that process, the more chance there is of contamination by pesticides. Conventional celery is one of the worst foods you can eat without buying it organically; making it even worse is the fact that itís consumed in such mass quantities throughout America. If youíre not buying your celery organically, you could be dieting and snacking your way to a pesticide-filled belly. Make the effort to buy at least your celery organically since itís the vegetable with the highest chance of contaminating your family with pesticides.

3)  Organic Grapes
Grapes have such a high water content that itís possible to freeze them ó and a good idea, as well. If you have frozen grapes sitting around, you can use them in place of ice cubes to keep from watering down your drinks at parties. Grapes are also one of the great fruits to be used as snack foods and one of the least likely foods to be cooked. After all, whoever heard of a grape pie?

purple green red grapes organic

Unfortunately, one effect of eating grapes raw is that thereís no chance for pesticides to be neutralized in the cooking process. Grapes are so often consumed raw that the pesticides go right into the mouths and bodies of those eating them, and the high water content means that theyíre been sucking up water filled with pesticides from the ground for as long as theyíve been growing.

Fortunately, most supermarkets do carry organic grapes, if they carry organic anything. Theyíre a bit more expensive than the conventional kind, as everything is, but this food is so high in potential pesticides that itís very important to make the leap.

2)  Organic Strawberries
You know a fruit is popular when itís the most popular flavoring on the market as well. Strawberry popsicles, strawberry gummy chews, strawberry hard candy -- strawberry everything is as popular as the flavor of summer itself. Even though quality in-season strawberries are only available for a short time, the impact they have on flavor profiles is stunning. Wild strawberries are some of the most exciting finds a kid can make, and theyíre nutritious enough that any family would feel good about serving these sweets.

fresh ripe organic strawberries

However, strawberries contain 92 percent water. Not only that, but the skin of a strawberry is extremely thin and porous, letting lots of water and other contaminants in with ease. Conventional strawberries are one of the foods most likely to be affected by pesticides in the entire catalog of fruits and vegetables, and can pose a serious danger if you find yourself something of a strawberry addict. Organic strawberries are usually widely available, but sometimes only for the summer months, depending on where you live. If you canít find organic strawberries, think very carefully whether the risk of ingesting all those chemicals is worth the experience of biting into a juicy, ripe, ruby-red berry.

1)  Organic Apples
An apple a day may keep the doctor away ó and the dentist, given how good eating raw apples is for your teeth ó but it can also give you another daily dose: your daily dose of pesticides and chemicals. Apples are so ubiquitous in so many varieties and flavors that itís sometimes hard to think of them all as one species; after all, a soft Golden Delicious is about as different from a tart crisp Granny Smith as a strawberry is from a pear Ė in taste and in texture. Yet no matter what kind of apple you buy, you stand a huge risk for being contaminated with pesticides if you donít buy your apples all organically. A traditional snack food, apples and apple slices are unfortunately very prone to contamination. Even if you buy all of your own produce organically, it would be a good idea to ask before consuming apples at restaurants or at someone elseís party, just in case the apples youíre eating donít happen to be organic.

farm fresh organic apples

For an easy, healthy dessert, core an apple, stuff with your choice of nuts, sugar or even nothing at all, fill a shallow pan with water, and bake the apple in the pan for 40 minutes. This sweet treat will have you thrilled knowing you have safe, organic produce.

Organic apple baked with nuts and honey
organic apple baked with honey and nuts

Produce can be a tricky thing to know how to purchase. After all, there are a thousand choices between the regular conventional foods section, the local foods section, the organic foods section, the exotic foods section, and many more besides. Some stores donít even label their produce that well (although if the fruit or vegetable has a Ď9í in the front of the PLU code, the food is organic). It can be very difficult to know whether itís even important to buy organic. Hopefully, when you know more about which foods are the most important to buy organic, youíll be able to make a more informed choice about the health of yourself and your family.





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