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If you’re a fan of Brown Bag, chances are you’re also a proponent of organic food; and if you’re buying organic food on a regular basis, then you know how expensive it can get.  In fact, if you’re feeling the pinch in the checkout line, you might even be wondering if it’s really worth it.   We argue yes–“worth it” extends past a cash register receipt and into the environment and the future, but each person and each family has to make their own decisions.  On the whole, there are 3 main categories of produce whose organic road you should be following: tree fruits, berries and leafy greens, but there are exceptions.  On that note, we give you, “The  Dirty Dozen”:  the twelve most contaminated fruits and veggies.  Ready? Here goes!

Apples:  Fungus and insect threats make apples one of the most pesticide-riddled fruits out there. In fact, more than 40 different kinds of pesticides have been found on apples.  Now, you may be thinking, “I’ll just peel my apples!”  Consider this: When you peel an apple, you peel away many of its most powerful nutrients.  So, we have to ask–what’s the point in eating that apple in the first place?  Then there this:  Apples absorb and contain the pesticides with which they come into contact.  Apples are “bagged” with pesticides, so chemicals really go all the way to the core on these fruits.  A consequence of all this pesticide on apples:  Many apple products, such as apple sauce and apple juice, contain pesticide residue, as well.  The long and short of it—keep apples and apple products on your “Organic Only” list.

Looking for apple alternatives:  watermelons, bananas, and tangerines.

Celery:  This is a tricky one because it doesn’t stick to the 3 main categories; but rules were made to be broken, right?  Celery breaks the pattern in a big way and that’s why it’s on the Dirty Dozen list.  USDA tests have identified more than 60 different kinds of pesticides on celery.

Can’t find organic celery but craving its crunch?  Try broccoli, radishes and onions.

Strawberries:  Seems strawberries are always on the Dirty Dozen list, and that’s a shame because everyone loves strawberries!  Unfortunately, fungi also love strawberries, and so they are routinely sprayed with chemicals (pesticides and fungicides) and then covered in plastic, so the chemicals really permeate the berries.  The USDA has identified more than 60 different chemicals on strawberries (slightly less with frozen strawberries).  Organic is really the only way to go with these beauties.

Having trouble finding organic strawberries?  Try kiwi or pineapple as alternatives.

Peaches:   Peaches are always on the Dirty Dozen list as well.  More than 60 pesticides have been identified on peaches.  Single-serving packs are just as bad, but there seem to be slightly less in canned peaches.  Peaches, like apples, absorb and contain pesticides, but it seems that cooking peaches (as in canning) “burns off” some of the chemicals–but not all, not even close.

If organic peaches are out of reach, consider watermelons, tangerines, oranges and grapefruit.

Spinach:  Spinach is the lead qualifier in the leafy greens category of highest number of pesticides identified–50 different kinds!  Ugh.  And while you can wash spinach (just like other produce), you can’t wash away what is contained in the plant itself.  Doesn’t spinach make you strong like Popeye?  Maybe, but organic spinach is best.  Frozen spinach has almost as many identified pesticides but canned is somewhat safer.  Maybe Popeye was on to something after all?

Nectarines (Imported):  If pesticides go with peaches, nectarines were probably destined to follow; nectarines are actually one of the most contaminated tree fruits on the market, especially imported nectarines.  The problem:  The countries where they are grown have different laws concerning pesticides, so you’re not even eating US legal levels and kinds of pesticides—you’re getting something entirely different.  Domestic nectarines, on average, contain 33 different kinds of pesticides (better than imported but still not good). Our advice:  Go organic on this one.

Organic nectarines aren’t always easy to find, so consider pineapple, mangoes, or papaya instead.

Our next blog will cover the last 6 items on the Dirty Dozen list.  As the seasons change, winter to spring, and soon enough, spring to summer, our produce options increase; and hopefully, prices will decrease a bit as fresh produce starts flowing in.  In the meantime, consider your options.  Eat wisely. Do your own research.  Some things are worth going the extra mile (or dollar) for.