Organic foods are those produced using methods of organic farming, which do not involve synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and are not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.  Most recently, the absence of genetic engineering (GE) or genetic modification (GM) has been incorporated into the organic definition.

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Organic products are becoming increasingly popular as concerns grow about the impact of synthetic chemicals, such as pesticides, and processes, such as GM on human health.  Organic farming makes use of alternative methods of pest control and growth optimization that are considered far less likely to impact human health.

The pesticide problem

In conventional farming, pesticides – chemicals toxic to vermin as well as to humans – are considered critical to preserving crop yield.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a not-for-profit environmental research organization, has noted that the average person is exposed to approximately 15 different pesticides per day from foods. Given that these chemicals are designed to kill living organisms, their impact on human health is of significant concern.
Animal and human studies on individual pesticides have linked them to various health problems, including the following:

  • Cancer
  • Fertility problems
  • Brain tumors
  • Childhood leukemia
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Birth defects
  • Irritation to skin and eyes
  • Hormone or endocrine system problems
  • Nervous system damage

Those especially at risk from pesticides are children, whose bodies are still developing. Those of unborn children are even more susceptible to damage.
While some argue that the amount of pesticides on produce is minimal, evidence suggests that cumulative exposure over a long period of time multiplies the negative impact on health; ultimately becoming significant.
For example, a recent study in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that people who had been exposed to even low levels of pesticides over time were found to be 1.13 times as likely to have Parkinson’s disease as those who had never been exposed.

Minimizing food pesticide exposure

Products known as “fruit and vegetable washes” are marketed as an aid to “safely remove toxic pesticides, dirt, mold, and other residues from your family’s produce.”  Homemade versions of these washes can be made from combinations of vinegar and salt or lemon juice and baking soda. The following are the most common recipes:

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon baking soda
¼ cup vinegar
2 tablespoons salt
1 cup water

While these washes may help reduce pesticides to some degree, most are far more stubborn to washing and even peeling of produce.  Further, peeling can be disadvantageous nutritionally, as produce skins – especially those of apples and potatoes – contain important nutrients and antioxidants.
The EWG suggests that by avoiding the most-contaminated produce, you can reduce your exposure to pesticides by almost 90%.

The 20 fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide levels

These are the ones that you should always buy organic, if possible.  If you do buy conventional versions of the following produce, please be sure to wash them thoroughly with a rinse.  These are ranked in order by EWG, with the worst at #1.

PeachesSweet bell peppers
Grapes (imported)Green beans
RaspberriesHot peppers
Grapes (domestic)

The following are currently considered to have the least amount of pesticides, ranked in order by EWG with the produce with the absolute lowest pesticides first.






OnionSweetcornAsparagusSweet peasCabbageBroccoli


Winter Squash

*Sweet potatoes


* These are technically fruits, but are used as vegetables.

Coffee is another item considered to be frequently contaminated with pesticides.  It is important to note that most coffee is grown in and imported from countries applying pesticides that have been banned in western countries.

While some concerns have been raised about a decrease in the nutrient content of conventionally farmed fruits and vegetables, a 2012 survey of the scientific literature found that differences in the vitamin content between organic and conventional plant or animal products varied from study to study, but that as a whole, they were not significant.

The GMO challenge

GM (also known as genetic engineering or GE) of food involves the laboratory process of artificially inserting genes into the DNA of food crops or animals. The result is called a GM organism (GMO), sometimes called “transgenic.”  The goal is to produce improvements that generally include increased quality, appearance and/or rate of production, or to make a plant more resistant to disease and weather extremes.  GMOs are not the same as hybrid products, which result from the interbreeding between two animals or plants of different species to meet the same quality and hardiness goals of GM, as well as nutritional enhancement.

While hybrid vegetables have a favorable public opinion, having existed naturally and having been used commercially for centuries, GM produce is the result of newer technologies that are thought to have serious drawbacks.  Research in this field has revealed negative effects of some GMOs in laboratory animals and humans, and little is known about the long-term effects.

Consumers are increasingly voicing concern regarding GMOs, and support for labeling products.  Companies may voluntarily label products as “non-GMO.”  Some labels state “non-GMO” while others spell out “Made Without Genetically Modified Ingredients.”

Some products limit their claim to only one particular “at-risk” ingredient such as soy lecithin, listing it as “non-GMO.”  Certified organic products are not allowed to contain any GMOs.  Therefore, when you purchase products labeled “100% organic, organic, or made with organic ingredients,” it is forbidden for any of the ingredients in these products to have been produced from GMOs.

If the term organic is only in the list of ingredients and not found anywhere else on the package, then there is no required overall percentage for organic ingredients in the product, and any non-organic ingredient may be GMO.

The following crops are known to have the highest rates of GM production.  Since these crops are extremely widespread in products around the world, they constitute a starting point for choosing organic products:

  • Corn
  • Soybean
  • Canola (rapeseed)
  • Cottonseed


How to choose organic

There are three types of organic specifications for food labeling:

1.   “Certified organic” products are not allowed to contain any GMOs.  Therefore, when you purchase products labeled “100% organic, organic, or made with organic ingredients,” it is forbidden for any of the ingredients in these products to have been produced from GMOs.

2.   “Organic” means that at least 95% of the ingredients are organic. The other 5%, however, still have to be non-GMO.

3.   “Made with organic __________” (ingredient name, such as soy) means that at least 70 percent of the ingredients are organic, but the remaining 30 percent still have to be non-GMO.

Learn more about GMOs and the foods you should avoid.

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Comments 38

    • Hi, Dianne. It is recommended to eat fruit at least twice a day, which is how this program is structured. Fruits with the highest sugar levels (per regular serving) are apples, bananas, figs, grapes, kiwis, pears, pineapple, and pomegranate.

  1. Hi, Brenna13. Greenwise is generally very good, but note that the yogurts tend to be flavored and therefore high in sugar. Be on the lookout for that. The best yogurts are found at health-oriented stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, and are “pastured,” as well as being organic. We recommend to get the plain type, then add your own fruit and high-quality sweetener, such as one recommended here

  2. I need information about dairy products. Especially yogurt. Also I shop in Publix supermarkets in Florida and they have a line of products called Green Wise Do you think they are okay to use instead of organic?

  3. Hi, GoingForit. It depends on your needs. Your system is probably just fine, but some people with immune issues like to use a wash for all produce. Keep in mind that organic produce is still made with manure, and there are still many pairs of hands that touch it before it gets to you – again, if you are strong and healthy, water is considered adequate.

  4. This article contains some information l did not know, thank you. I like the ‘wash’ recipe and will compare it to the recipe l was using up til now. I came across this article in the process of looking for another one, which l can no longer find. The one l was looking for said that it is not necessary to buy organic for things like fruit with a thick peel etc. I did some research and found additional information: even fruit with thick peels, if sprayed with pesticides etc. are a problem because when cutting the fruit, the ‘stuff’ gets onto hands and knives etc. and is transferred to what is eaten. Washing the fruit in a cleaning solution helps. Perhaps more importantly, because the ‘wash’ has no effect on this: perticides etc. enter not only through the skin but through the roots of vegetables, of fruit trees etc… I think this is an important thing to consider when making a decision as to whether or not to go organic. The issue extends well beyond the ‘dirty dozen’.

  5. Hi, Ayoz. Excessive coffee may carry risks in some individuals. For the majority of older individuals, it appears to be beneficial – provided, of course, that there aren’t pesticide and other chemical residues insided.

  6. Hi, JodiSmith. Unless the corn says “non-GMO” or “organic,” there is a chance that it is GMO. Canola is the same – though it does indeed have less saturated fat than butter.
    In general, fruits and vegetables are relatively unaffected, it is just that selecting organic ones may limit your exposure to pesticides.
    In general, it is believed that cleaner and non-GMO produce is perceived as more nutritious by the body, and is therefore more supportive of healthy weight management.
    Note, however, that you don’t necessarily need to go organic for everything if you are on a budget!

  7. The highest risk of GMO is in corn, soybean, canola and cottonseed. I sometimes buy corn fresh or frozen. Is that still GMO or are we talking about the corn in the prepared products or both? Also I buy Canola oil. For some reason I thought it had less saturated fat.
    So, you are saying that finding the veggies that are none GMO will help me lose weight?
    Just joined today and trying to figure out where to start…

  8. Hi, fczusman, and welcome! You definitely don’t have to make the mix fresh each time – just be sure to discard the used stuff. The wash solution can last about three months if stored away from heat and light, possibly longer in the refrigerator.

  9. first time member and reader…great info…about the wash for the fruits and vegs. Once you have this mixture, how long can you keep it for? I imagine it must be kept in the fridge, but how long does it last? Does it have to be made fresh each time you bring home fruits and vegs from the store?

  10. Great information, I see in the stores that a product is 100% organic, and I now understand that I should be feeding myself and my family more of these products. I didn’t understand what 100% Organic meant, now I do. Thanks for all the wonderful information.

  11. Hi, Kayleeguy. Watermelon, pomegranates, etc. are in the “Fruits” section of the “Snacks” tab of the Menu Planner lists. Even though they are listed under snacks, your selections are distributed throughout the day, including breakfast.
    Thanks for the design concern – I have forwarded it to our development team.

  12. Hi, Cornhusker905. Starbucks is an excellent choice in general, as they are moving toward 100% ‘ethically sourced’ (in about a year they plan to be there). In the meantime, their organic options are still recommended to avoid pesticide and herbicide residue.

  13. First time reading/member. Wonderful information. Just signed up today and am enthusiastic about using these facts for a healthier future. I do wish you would consider formatting with a bolder print. It is a very grey and washed out colour. Don’t worry. I will endure and keep on reading as long as you keep on writing these good facts for a healthier life.

  14. Where is watermelon? The raw food community considers watermelon to be in a food group of its own and to be extremely healthy. And what about pomegranites? with seeds, not juiced, they are considered to be one of the highest helpful food for weight loss and health maintenance that we have; how come they are mentioned here?

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