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Is Organic Produce Worth It?

Paying more for some fruits and vegetables may be smart

Hands cutting bell pepper, surrounded by other organic foods.

Paying more for some fruits and vegetables may be smart

During the past few decades, navigating the produce aisle has become more confusing. Offerings of organic food have increased, leaving shoppers to wonder if it is really worth spending extra money on food that is organically raised.

The answer may be yes if you are interested in the health benefits of pesticide-free produce.

“If you can afford organic produce, you should definitely choose that,” says Steven Pratt, MD, a Scripps physician who is well-known for his books about nutrient-rich superfoods.

Eating more organic food may help protect you from cancer, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study showed that people who ate more organic produce, dairy, meat and other products were 25 percent less likely to develop cancer, especially non-Hodgkin lymphoma and postmenopausal breast cancer.

The study, conducted by French researchers, examined the association between an organic food-based diet — which it defined as a diet less likely to contain pesticide residues — and cancer risk.

The study followed nearly 70,000 adults, mostly women, for five years and found that an organic-based diet could contribute to reducing cancer risk.

What is organic food?

Certified organic foods are grown and processed according to guidelines that address soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control and use of additives.

Produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, according to the USDA.

For organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products, the guidelines require that they come from animals that were given no antibiotics or growth hormones, according to the USDA.

More advice from a nutrition expert

Dr. Pratt advises people to eat a minimum of three half-cup servings of fruit and two cups of vegetables per day. Part of the reason for his recommendation is to help the body clear pesticides and other toxins.

“Everybody has pesticides in their body, simply because we’re constantly exposed to them — not just in food, but in the air we breathe and things we touch. Fruits and vegetables help the body clear accumulated toxins through the digestive process,” Dr. Pratt says.

Dr. Pratt also suggests shoppers make an additional trip into the heart of the store for some produce.

“In a lot of cases, frozen foods like broccoli, carrots and berries are flash-frozen within minutes of being harvested, ” Dr. Pratt says. “Nutritional value is tightly related to how long it’s been since an item was picked. Compare a frozen package of broccoli to a head in the supermarket cooler, which may be 10 days old. The nutritional value of the frozen vegetable is going to be higher in most cases,” he says.

Where to find organic food

In addition to your local supermarket or grocery store, farmers markets, local produce stands, and community-supported agriculture shares are good places to find nutritious, fresh and pesticide-free produce.

For those whose food budgets are tight, Dr. Pratt recommends using guidelines published by the Environmental Working Group (EWP) to select conventionally grown fruits and veggies that are naturally lowest in pesticides.

Every year, the EWP releases its “Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce” list, which is based on analysis of the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program report, which is published annually.

2018 Dirty Dozen

The EWP's “Dirty Dozen” is a list of fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residue.

1. Strawberries

2. Spinach

3. Nectarines

4. Apples

5. Grapes

6. Peaches

7. Cherries

8. Pears

9. Tomatoes

10. Celery

11. Potatoes

12. Sweet bell peppers

2018 Clean 15

The EWP's “Clean 15” list is the counterpart to the Dirty Dozen — and reports the fruits and vegetables with the least likelihood to contain pesticide residue.

1. Avocados

2. Sweet corn

3. Pineapples

4. Cabbages

5. Onions

6. Sweet peas (frozen)

7. Papayas

8. Asparagus

9. Mangoes

10. Eggplants

11. Honeydews

12. Kiwis

13. Cantaloupes

14. Cauliflower

15. Broccoli