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Is Buying Organic Food Always Necessary?

Robyn Openshaw, MSW - Updated: April 6, 2021 - - This Post May Contain Affiliate Links

Photo of organic produce at open space market from "Is Buying Organic Food Always Necessary?" by Green Smoothie Girl

The Dirty Dozen and Genius Guides

Think buying organic food is going to blow your budget?

Let’s set aside the argument that eating whole food pays back in higher energy and lowered disease risk and healthcare costs.

You’ve got a budget, and let’s face it, buying organic food will chip away at it more quickly than conventional food. Did you know you can prioritize which foods are MOST important to buy organic, and which are LEAST important?

In this article:

The “Dirty Dozen” And Other Foods To ALWAYS Buy Organic

The “Dirty Dozen” is a list put out by the Environmental Working Group, ranking produce most contaminated by pesticide.  It changes a little year to year, but the same culprits tend to show up time and time again:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard, and mustard greens
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Cherries
  8. Peaches
  9. Pears
  10. Bell and hot peppers
  11. Celery
  12. Tomatoes

Those are no-brainers. Choose organic every time.

More Foods to Put On Your ALWAYS ORGANIC List

The Dirty Dozen isn’t the whole story, though, and pesticides aren’t the only culprit to watch out for. Here are some more foods I recommend buying organic.

  • Leafy Greens: The demand for pre-washed, organic leafy greens has increased availability and pushed the organic price down; nowadays, the organic choice isn’t much higher than conventional.  Besides, with greens being such a large percentage of a healthy whole-foods diet (what’s a green smoothie or salad without them?), you want the cleanest source possible.
  • Coffee: Coffee is one of the most sprayed crops on the planet. With 12 billion pounds of coffee being produced each year, that’s a lot of herbicides, pesticides, and additives. Buying organic is better for you, AND for the environment.
  • Eggs: The natural omega fatty acid balance is so disrupted in conventional eggs that it’s the reverse of what is healthy.  It should be a 6:1 ratio Omega 3’s to Omega 6’s, but in conventional eggs, that ratio is flipped. Folks eating the Standard American Diet are already far out of balance. Choose organic eggs for a more natural ratio.
  • Meat: If you’re going to eat meat, always choose clean, organic sources. Organic livestock is raised without antibiotics and steroids, and the animals have access to the outdoors. Their feed cannot contain animal by-products or GMO grains or be grown using non-organic fertilizers. Look for free-range poultry and grass-fed beef. Butcherbox offers clean, organic options, and if you order here and use coupon code GSG, they will apply a $10 discount to your box and include free bacon (uncured and sugar-free).
  • Dairy: If you can’t do without dairy products, make sure they’re organic, for the same reasons you want clean meats. The best organic dairy comes from grass-fed animals.

The “Clean 15” And Other Foods You DON’T Need To Buy Organic

The “Clean 15” is the other side of the Dirty Dozen coin. EWG says this produce is least likely to be contaminated with pesticide, and is generally ok to buy conventionally.

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet peas (frozen)
  7. Eggplant
  8. Asparagus
  9. Broccoli
  10. Cabbage
  11. Kiwi
  12. Cauliflower
  13. Mushrooms
  14. Honeydew melon
  15. Cantaloupe

I’ll add a few more grocery items to the list of non-organic foods to purchase:

  • Other foods with thick skins or rinds that can be removed, like melons, citrus fruits, bananas, and squashes.
  • Quinoa, which usually isn't sprayed because the tough outer coating is already nearly impermeable to pests.
  • Maple syrup, which is usually forest-harvested from untreated trees.
Photo of farmer holding box of organic vegetables from "Is Buying Organic Food Always Necessary?" by Green Smoothie Girl
If you're just not sure which foods to buy, go with the organic option.

What about foods not on either list? Read labels and use good judgment. When in doubt, go organic when your budget allows (and maybe even grow some of your own veggies!).

Want the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists handy when you're shopping at the grocery store? Grab my convenient Wallet Cards, for free!


Read Next: What Does ORGANIC Mean? Should I Pay More For It, Or Not?

Photograph of Robyn Openshaw, founder of Green Smoothie Girl

Robyn Openshaw, MSW, is the bestselling author of The Green Smoothies Diet, 12 Steps to Whole Foods, and 2017’s #1 Amazon Bestseller and USA Today Bestseller, Vibe. Learn more about how to make the journey painless, from the nutrient-scarce Standard American Diet, to a whole-foods diet, in her free video masterclass 12 Steps to Whole Foods.

Photo of organic produce at open space market with post's text from "Is Buying Organic Food Always Necessary?" by Green Smoothie Girl

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that help support the GSG mission without costing you extra. I recommend only companies and products that I use myself.

Posted in: Preparedness, Videos

50 thoughts on “Is Buying Organic Food Always Necessary?”

Leave a Comment
  1. Lori C says:

    What about sweet potatoes? Are they in the “potato” category that is heavily sprayed? May be a dumb question, but I love sweet potatoes so I want to make sure. I have a pretty strict budget. Also, how do we know the grass they are using for grass-fed animals is not heavily sprayed and chemically fertilized? Does this not matter?

    1. In the video she said that sweet potatoes are in the ‘okay to buy non-organic’ category.

  2. Leslie says:

    Even with the Clean 15, there are still pesticides used, and this is damaging to the planet and other species, not just your health. If you are spending money on stuff you don’t need (cosmetics, household cleaners, furniture, clothes, shoes, facials, manicures, jewellry, crap, crap, and more crap), stop, and start spending your money on organic, ideally locally grown food. Everything else is secondary.

    Great site Green Smoothie Girl!

    1. GSG Support says:

      Leslie, love your perspective!

    2. Mary says:

      I agree! Let’s not just think about what’s best for us but what’s also best for this planet we call home!

      1. I agree with Mary — first things first, as in what is best for planet Earth, not just us.

  3. This was an awesome with helpful content. I believe in professionals so this is a very useful article for everyone. Thank you very much for sharing..

    1. GSG Support says:

      Karl, thanks for your comments in return!

  4. Joan Larson says:

    What about the wine industry ? Nobody ever taljs about that !!

    1. Eileen Schott says:

      I have found both organic wines and wines from organic grapes (not necessarily other ingredients)

    2. Jenn says:

      in the US it is not required to put ingredients on labels. wine has dye to make it that beautiful color we like, sulfites and artificial yeasts. Of course there’s the pesticides on non organic grapes, etc. i cannot tolerate any US wine even the $100 bottle with all it’s aditives. i stick to the old vines like France, Italy, Argentina. Noooo Australian wine either.

  5. Barbara Lynch says:

    Do the labels put on vegies have a code for non-GMOS such as the last didget?

    1. Marlene says:

      Organic starts with 9 conventional starts with 4 and I think GMO starts with 8. Organic and GMO will have 5 numbers because they had the 9 or 8 before the other 4 numbers, hope that helps

      1. Ellen Zaslaw says:

        I’ve heard that 9 at the beginning of the number means organic and 8 means GMO. Who knows anymore what is truth and what is fiction.

        1. Tressa says:

          Nine is fine … four leave on the floor (GMO – I don’t know )

    2. Rhonda Miga says:

      I have read that 5 digit starting with 9 is organic (but I have seen 4 digits with a label that says “organic”)

      I have read that 5 digits starting with 8 is GMO, however, I recently read this article, too.

  6. Malvika says:

    In today’s busy era everyone prefer online shopping. Its has many benefits like time saving, quick and easy. We are able to find many products under one shopping website. Try to buy organic food from website that are near to your locality and offering fresh food items.

  7. Vicky says:

    I’m a nurse and try to educate patients about GMO. Most people think it means they have crossed DNA of plants together and that makes them GMO. OVer 30 years ago corn was genetically modified. That means that the pesticide was placed in the DNA of the plant. People need to realize that they are eating the pesticide. Also plants that are GMO also have terminal seeds so you can’t save the seed from plants and replant the next year. My Dad was a farmer and many years ago explained to me what would eventually happen to our food supply. Also GMO crops are sprayed for weeds. They use a chemical called Dicamba. This chemical drifts onto non GMO crops and kills the non GMO crops or affects the crop by reducing the yield from that crop. This ultimately takes money out of the pockets of NON GMO Farmers. I encourage all to educate themselves on this subject regarding the crops. This ultimately affects us all.

    1. Veronica Haskins says:

      Wow… I knew that our thoughts on GMO were wrong, but I had no idea the pesticide was put into the DNA of the corn! I have been trying to convince my family to go to on an organic/whole foods diet for a long time, maybe this will convince them!! Thank u so much!!

  8. Avena says:

    Don’t you think that cleaning and boosting and sealing it is the most important first objective so you your gut your immune system can take care of itself. Yes you have wonderful ideas and real food start but why would you always want or desire for a powdered drink . Eggs mind you are the healthiest protein , your body with proper starting point of your gut and urging out the garbage that western civilization has dogmented into our brains so that we continue this circle and really never have our selves to take care of ourselves not pharmaceuticals gaining money from our ockets . Hey but you’ve lost weight and your family is doing great hey great job really it’s hard work. But how long will this actually last because where did you start .

    1. GSG Support says:

      Hi Avena, We teach and promote raw/live whole foods all the way. I also teach that if you choose to eat animal protein, my first choice would be organic, free range eggs which are excellent source of Omega 3s as opposed to conventional eggs which are heavy in Omega 6s. I healed myself of 21 different diseases, lost 70 lbs as a direct result of eating whole foods and my children are healthy because I fed them whole foods. Since I’ve been going strong for 25 years now, I anticipate many more healthy years ahead! I hope this has helped to answer your questions. 🙂

  9. Charmaine says:

    I have read that an 8 in front of the code means the food has been irradiated, which if true, IMO is not good.

  10. What about nuts? Especially almonds, as I go through a lot making almond milk.

    1. GSG Support says:

      Claire, almonds are a big deal to us at GSG and the very reason we promote a group buy once a year to get unpasteurized almonds at the best price from a farmer in California. Ours just ended last night at midnight, but be thinking about this for yourself next year and jump in!

  11. Stephanie says:

    Good information, however Organic also means organic seeds, not just spraying….so the clean 15 aren’t really clean. If the seeds aren’t organic and the fertilizer used is not organic, then don’t eat it or be aware of what you are eating.

  12. Inge Mihm says:

    What do you think of cheese from New Zealsnd or of other ( non American) imported cheeses? I think they are safe. Most countries other than the US don’t allow GMO foods.

    1. GSG Support says:

      Right – well, if you’re okay with dairy and it’s all grass fed, non GMO, organic then I’d say you’re pretty safe.

  13. holly says:

    you should check out this company
    they also are humane in their slaughter practices.

  14. Hannah says:

    Almond milk or cocunut milk ok?

    I see no organic brands were I’m from.

    1. Bern says:

      Its very easy to make your own. The only appliance you need is a blender. YouTube has many tutorials. I make my own, this way I’m sure whats in it.

  15. Hannah says:

    One other thing… is it more important
    to watch your kids sugar or give them

    With the recent guidelines it’s a fantasy.

    They are very active though.

  16. cbryant2016 says:

    This is interesting — why didn’t someone think of it before?

  17. Jake says:

    You say onions are ok but are you aware that many growers burn the tops off their onions with Roundup to make them easier to harvest?

  18. Tina says:

    Earthfare has organic almond milk & organic almond/coconut milk! Earthfare Store brand

  19. Lili Massia says:

    pineaples were safe 8 years ago. The ones that come from Central America grow in soils with a lot of agrochemicals in them. I had to treat people working in “las Piñeras” with skin rushes and gut problems for the last 7 years…

  20. Laura says:

    Cut the processed sugar by cutting the processed foods! And you will automatically cut a whole lot of GMOs and pesticides out of your diet. I have 3 little kids—8, 5, 3–it CAN be done. Research shows that sugar is as addictive as cocaine (check PubMed for yourself). It’s terrible for all of us and especially for our kids’ small, developing brains and bodies.

    Here’s to better health for us all!

  21. GreenSmoothieGirl Support says:

    Stephanie, Most seeds aren’t injected with Roundup, especially the clean 15. It’s a disturbing trend of course. But EWG makes the list every year and they are well aware of that issue so I don’t imagine that the clean 15 are “Roundup ready”.

  22. GreenSmoothieGirl Support says:

    Hannah, I’d say both are very important – keep refined sugars out of their diet and rather encourage natural sugars in whole foods which if you can purchase organic is preferred. Here’s a link to the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen that is helpful when shopping: https://greensmoothiegirl.local/dirtydozen/

  23. Sofia says:

    I love the genious guides & had so looked forward to ordering them, but in checkout it says no shipping to the United Kingdom. Is there really no way of posting these to the UK?

    1. GreenSmoothieGirl Support says:

      Hi Sofia, I love our genius guides as well – so handy and attractively displayed and laminated. Alas, to ship them to the UK would cost you an arm and a leg, I fear.

    2. Beverley says:

      I guess that goes for Australia too?

  24. Please make sure your Papayas are non-GMO. They are a GMO crop and it is surprising to me that this is not mentioned on the clean 15 list. If your Papayas are from Hawaii, and they are not labeled as non-gmo or organic they are GMO. I hope you will consider supporting local farmers efforts to keep Papayas clean and buy non-gmo and organic.


  25. gerry says:

    It is risky to buy anything NOT organic! There is a current trend to spray with Roundup for more uniform controlled harvest. This includes sweet potatoes, beans, lentils, grains, rice, cabbage, quinoa, melons, peas, corn, cauliflower and MORE! Eat organic! There are papayas and summer squashes that are GMO that have been sold for years WITHOUT labeling!! ALSO maple syrup is primed with formaldehyde in the collecting tube to keep it open if it isn’t organic! Beware of LEMONS as the rind has several pesticides and many people are adding it to their clean filtered water thinking that it is SAFE! Bananas are also fumigated and treated with anti ripening chemicals so they sit on the shelf longer. Once I had bananas for 2 weeks that stayed GREEN! I took them back! Organic is truly worth the price and they are much higher in nutrients and flavor

  26. Quirine Wentink says:

    Not Always we need to buy organic. But when I see that that is also advised for bananas it is hard for me to believe. In Costa Rice my daughter was doing research by University Wageningen in Netherlands: it was very clear that the non organic bananas contributed dramatically to bad health both of the farmers growing them as to their families and the consumers. Since I have been there I never eat non-organic bananas anymore

    1. Tara says:

      We eat organic apples too because we can also tell the difference in taste.

      1. Tara says:

        Oops I meant to say bananas.

  27. Mary Baribeau says:

    I’m surprised that papaya doesn’t say non GMO next to it like the corn. I thought it was a high GMO food unless organic.

  28. Judy Reynolds says:

    Thank you very much I do appreciate this information .

  29. Irene Schonberg says:

    Is it possible to buy a PDF version as I live in Australia and shipping is not provided to us.

  30. Sophie Rosenberg says:

    The concept of promoting a clean 15 is misleading because minimal spraying and thick skinned fruit doesn’t change the fact that the soil from which the fruit or vegetables grow is mineral deficient. To save money, I recommend reducing portion sizes, stop overfilling your plate of food. Your grocery bill will be less if you buy less – even if you’re choosing to buy 100% everything on your grocery list.

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