Organic Food: When to Scrimp, When to Splurge

shapeimage_2I read a great article on when it makes sense to buy organic and when the advantages are nil that it’s impractical to spend money on it.  Here’s the rundown:

FRUITS

When to spend on organic:

Apples: Among fruits, apples pack the highest level of pesticides overall!  The pesticides pool on the apple’s top and bottom.  So much for “An Apple a Day!.”

Cherries: Heavily contaminated with pesticides since worms love them.   You have no choice but to go organic.

Grapes:  This one, you can’t be sure.  Since grapes are not all imported to the Philippines, some grapes have high pesticide levels since international controls on pesticides are not rigorous on some countries.

Pears: Definitely.  The skin of pears is thin and the pesticide content is high.  They absorb chemicals directly into the flesh.

Strawberries:   Yes.  These grow too low on the ground and need high pesticide content to keep away soil bugs.  I have seen some farms in La Trinidad, Baguio that claim to be growing organic strawberries.  Do not be deceived by the label, we went into one of their greenhouses, and despite what they say, the berries were still being sprayed. 

When to Scrimp on it:

Avocados: Protected by tough skins, these are one of the most no-pesticide fruits.

Mangoes: Also protected by their skins and grow high in trees.  Be sure though that these are in season when you buy them.  Otherwise, the mangoes have been grown using flowering enhancers.

Bananas: These grow 30 feet above the ground and are protected by the tough banana skin.  Bananas have one of the lowest pesticide loads.

VEGETABLES

When to Spend on organic:

Peppers:  Yes. These vegetables are doused with pesticides and have the highest pesticide load of any vegetable.

Celery: Pesticides stay on the bottom of the bunch of celery stalks.   It is also said to have the most likely to contain multiple pesticides. You can still get away with it though if you prepare and wash these well.

Broccoli: If you are in the United States or live in temperate zones, broccoli has among the lowest pesticide levels.  However, these vegetables only grow in cold weather, and if grown elsewhere (i.e. tropics), would need fungicides to thrive during the rainy months.  Higher elevations would have more rainfall.  Most of the broccoli we get here are grown at higher than 700 meters and these entail over a 100 inches of rain a year.

Lettuce: Ease up on your salads or go organic.   Lettuce stay in the ground and bulk up on pesticide laden water.  They have the highest pesticide load of any vegetable.  If you can’t spend extra, reduce your exposure by removing the outer layers.

Spinach:  This one has got to be organic or your better off eating Gabby Leaves or Malunggay (plants endemic to the Philippines.)  Spinach is a ground-hugger like lettuce and drinks in pesticides through its stalks.  And unlike lettuce, you can’t remove its outer layers.

Potatoes:  Again, they just grow above the ground so farmers use chemicals to make sure they can harvest potatoes.  Pesticides are also ingested through the potato’s thin skin.

When to Scrimp on it:

Peas: Peas have among the lowest pesticide content and are protected by pods.

Camote/Sili or Fern Tops: These are tropical vegetables and will thrive anywhere and anytime without the use of pesticides or fungicides.

Malunggay/Gabby/Alogbate/Kangkong: Again, these are tropical vegetables and will thrive anywhere and anytime without the use of pesticides or fungicides.


In a nutshell:

  1. Fruits or vegetables grown in the ground would have the most pesticides.  Those that grow in trees would have lower levels.

  2. Fruits or vegetables with thick outer layers can be washed and/or peeled, and prepared properly to lessen the pesticide levels.

  3. Fruits or vegetables that are temperate, can only be grown in high elevations in the Philippines.  These elevations have more rain, and thus require more fungicides to thrive.

  4. You are better off, as always, eating what is endemic or indigenous to the Philippines, and in season. Go home and plant camote.

Taken in part: Environmental Working Group; Chensheng Lu, Emory University’s School of Public Health; United Fresh Produce Association

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