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Prices of Organic Foods are Generally High

Is the price of organic food worth the cost?

I just happened to be discussing this topic with my students. I proceeded to scare them by mentioning a concept known as “The Circle of Poison.”

Don’t worry. I’ll be sure to mention this here and scare all of you readers and listeners as well. Before I get to that, I have to discuss a bit of background.

Buckle your seatbelt! Here we go…

Conventional Produce and Pesticides

One of the concerns with consuming produce that is grown conventionally (meaning not organically) is exposure to pesticides. There have been associations between long-term pesticide exposure and certain diseases like cancer. Most health agencies recommend that we should limit our exposure to certain pesticides.

In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Agriculture are responsible for approving and regulating pesticides.

The Pesticide Approval Process

The Environmental Protection Agency is tasked with approving the safety of pesticides and determining how much exposure is considered safe. The EPA can ban the use of pesticides after they are determined to be harmful to our health and/or the environment. If a pesticide is approved for use, the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture take it from there and are responsible for making sure that these guidelines are being followed by produce growers.

Sadly, this process isn’t always followed. There are many reasons why this happens so I won’t go into detail about that here. Needless to say, without very strict regulation and enforcement, potentially harmful chemicals or higher-than-approved levels of these chemicals can become a problem.


Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 730 of the podcast  Optimal Health Daily.


“The Dirty Dozen” of Pesticides

According to a study conducted at the University of Washington, those that consumed mostly organic produce had lower levels of pesticide residues in their urine (which is a way to help determine pesticide exposure). Therefore, it is possible that consuming organic foods–produce in particular–may help reduce exposure to pesticides.

Every year, a separate organization called the Environmental Working Group creates their list of 12 produce items that contain the highest levels of pesticide residues. They affectionately call this “The Dirty Dozen.”

I must mention that what I’m sharing is specific to the United States. Each country has their own set of standards. In Europe, for example, many of the pesticides that are approved in the U.S. are banned there.

Here’s what’s particularly scary for U.S. citizens: there are companies that still manufacture chemicals that are banned for use on U.S. soil.

You may be thinking, “That’s not so scary.” That’s because that’s not the scary part.

These U.S. produced chemicals are sold and shipped to other countries for use on their farms where they grow produce and livestock. We then purchase the very same foods that are being grown on these farms where they used the banned chemicals we sold them, and import them into the U.S. From there, they end up on our grocery store shelves for our consumption. This is what’s known as “The Circle of Poison.”

Fun, no?

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Which Foods Should I Buy Organic?

Something we need to consider is how frequently the foods are consumed and in what quantities.

For example, kale is found on this list of the “Dirty Dozen,” meaning it typically contains lots of pesticide residues. So if you eat kale fairly regularly year-round, then I would suggest you purchase organically grown kale. On the other hand, if you hardly ever eat kale, then it may not be a big deal to purchase a variety that is conventionally grown.

Think about those foods that you consume quite often and consider switching to purchasing a certified organic version if you can.

Without further ado, here is the Environmental Working Group’s list of foods for 2019 with the highest pesticide residues:

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Peaches
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Potatoes

Which Foods Are Not Worth Buying Organically?

Luckily, the Environmental Working Group also publishes what they call, “The Clean 15.” These are foods that contain the fewest amounts of pesticide residues.

These include:

  • Avocado
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapple
  • Frozen sweet peas
  • Onion
  • Papaya
  • Eggplant
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Cantaloupe
  • Broccoli
  • Mushrooms
  • Honeydew melon

You may have noticed that many of the Clean Fifteen are foods that have thick peels or peels that are not edible. You can purchase conventionally grown foods with inedible or thick peels if you want to save some money and still lower your risk of pesticide exposure.

These lists only include fruits and vegetables — no animal products. What we know is that as we move up the biological chain (from fruits and vegetables to animal products), the potential for pesticide exposure increases. This is due to something called biomagnification.

Therefore, as often as possible, whenever I purchase animal products like meat, poultry, eggs, or dairy, I buy organic to help reduce my exposure.

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