Brain and Body

It Makes No Difference Whether You Buy Organic or Commercial for These 5 Foods

March 16, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Vegetables from organic farming.
Photo credit: Elina Mark/wikipedia (CC by SA 3.0)

Why go for the more expensive option if it’s not necessary?

Organic produce appeals to many people since organic farming practices encourage soil and water conservation, a reduction of pollution, and the use of natural fertilizers, according to the Mayo Clinic.

There’s also a lot of talk about organic fruits and vegetables being much healthier than conventionally-grown produce, but what does scientific research have to say about the claim?

Plenty of publications, including a non-profit health advocacy group called the Environmental Working Group, have published articles warning consumers to buy organic produce due to high levels of pesticide residue found on certain commercially produced fruits and veggies — so let’s discuss what it really means for food to contain pesticide residue.

SEE ALSO: New Study Finds Substantial Differences Between Organic and Non-Organic Milk, Meat

By no means is pesticide safe for humans to consume. Researchers say that pesticides are linked to a number of health problems, from short-term impacts like nausea and headaches to chronic problems like cancer and birth defects.

A 2007 study by researchers at the Public Health Institute, the California Department of Health Services, and the UC Berkeley School of Public Health found that children of women who were exposed to organochlorine pesticides had a sixfold increase in risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Further, a 2009 study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry found that children who live in homes where their parents use pesticides are twice as likely to develop brain cancer as those who live in pesticide-free homes.

Studies by the National Cancer Institute show that American farmers have startling incidences of leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, and many other forms of cancer, despite the fact that they are often healthier than the general population in most respects.

However, Joseph Schwarz, director of the Office for Science and Society at McGill University, says that it’s important to look beyond the fearful rhetoric surrounding foods with pesticide residue.

He told NPR that it’s a mistake to "equate the presence of a chemical with the presence of risk. Where is the evidence that these trace residues are dangerous?"

When it’s Okay to Go for the Cheaper Option Over Organic

According to the Stanford Medicine News Center, research has found that organic produce has a 30 percent lower risk of pesticide contamination than conventional fruits and veggies, although organic foods still aren’t 100-percent-guaranteed to be free of pesticides.

Here’s a list of some common grocery items that have been found to have low traces of pesticide residue, so, concerning health, it makes virtually no difference to opt for the cheaper, commercial version:


According to a video by Consumer Reports, it’s okay to opt out of the organic option when it comes to broccoli, but it is important to pay attention to where it’s coming from. Broccoli from the United States and Mexico are in the “low” and “very low” risk categories.


Oranges are low risk for pesticides, and the countries to look for when buying commercial oranges are the United States, Chile, and South Africa. However, if you’re going to be using the zest, it’s best to opt for the organic option since US Department of Agriculture measures for pesticides after the peel has been removed.


Lettuce is another one that doesn’t need to be organic, but whether it’s bought in a bag, a box, or loose, you should always be washing it before consuming — even if it says it’s been washed. If you buy a loose head of lettuce, remove the outer leaves and chow down on the ones that haven’t yet been exposed.


Consumer Reports says that in their analysis, onions from the United States and Peru proved to be low risk.


Both red and green grapes from the United States, Mexico, Chile, and Peru are in the low-risk category for non-organic produce.


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