To Buy or Not To Buy Organic

Lynda McIntyre

While the natural and organic food movements are becoming increasingly more popular among consumers, many people still don’t know the difference between organic and non-organic foods. Lynda McIntyre, clinical dietician specialist at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, weighs in to help you make the decision the next time you are at the grocery store. Some of her thoughts may go against traditional wisdom.

Is there any research that proves that eating organic foods is better for you?

Stanford University did a pretty comprehensive study on conventional versus organic and found that organic foods are not more nutritional than non-organic. Their nutrition density is the same. Now, there are more pesticides on conventional foods, but very few health issues could be attributed to those pesticides.

Is there any reason to purchase organic foods then?

The Environmental Working Group, a leading environmental health research and advocacy organization, came up with a list of fruits and veggies that are most often contaminated with pesticides. These are called the Dirty Dozen, the fruits and vegetables you should consider buying in their organic form. In other words, if you only have a limited amount of money for organic foods, then this is where you should spend your money. The 2013 Dirty Dozen list consists of the following fruits and vegetables: apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, hot peppers, imported nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, sweet bell peppers and—in a “plus” category containing two additional crops—kale/collard greens and summer squash. By buying these foods, you can eliminate about 80 to 90 percent of pesticides in your diet. Most have an edible skin, so that’s another reason to buy them.

There is also a list called the Clean 15, which are foods you don’t need to buy organically. They either don’t contain pesticides or don’t require pesticides because they taste really nasty to bugs, so bugs don’t bite into them. The 2013 Clean 15 list consists of the following fruits and vegetables: asparagus, avocados, cabbage, cantaloupe, sweet corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangos, mushrooms, onions, papayas, pineapples, frozen sweet peas and sweet potatoes.

Do you still have to wash the fruits and veggies?

You still want to wash all of your fruits and veggies, including those that don’t have an edible skin. Even something like cantaloupe—when you cut into it, you bring through the bacteria. Don’t waste your money on special soaps. If you use three parts water to one part vinegar, that’s just as effective as removing bacteria as those specialty soaps. Spray down the fruit or veggie, rinse for about 30 seconds, and 95 percent of the bacteria will wash away.

Question: Do you tend to buy foods that are organic or non-organic, and why? Leave a comment.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }


Laurent La Brie July 31, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Thank you for the article and discussion.


Laurent La Brie July 31, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Hidden Dangers in Kids Meals Genetically Engineered Foods_clip1
Hidden Dangers in Kids Meals Genetically Engineered Foods_clip1


Carole F. Seddon, LCSW-C, BCD, OSW-C July 24, 2013 at 5:09 pm

I try to buy organic for fruits and vegetables but especially for chicken breast, hamburger meat, pork and fish. I do not want the antibiotics, hormones, etc in chicken, hamburger (don't eat much red meat), pork and fish. I did not know about the "dirty dozen" and the good fruits and vegetables and will not that.


Shawna July 24, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Laura, I'm interested to know your reasoning in recommending avoiding GMO foods. My understanding is that no studies have shown any detrimental effects of GMO products on human health. And the environmental effects of a GMO crop would depend on the genetic modification made and the way the crop is grown, not the process of genetic modification itself.


Donna July 24, 2013 at 11:00 am

I think we should be very concerned about pesticide usage and the lack of adequate control in how they are applied. Several years ago the corn field next to my parents’ house was sprayed with an unusually potent mix of herbicides and pesticides, so much so that when it drifted during application into my parents’ yard it killed some bushes and a branch off of a large tree. That same summer my niece, who lived with my parents at the time, came down with necrotizing pneumonia and passed away. About a year after that my father developed multiple myeloma – which has been linked to exposure to pesticides – and he is now no longer with us. I don’t have any evidence that their illness had anything to do with the pesticides, but my gut says it did. So that’s something to think about. My parents bought the field so they can’t spray any more.


Bonnie July 24, 2013 at 10:58 am

Does washing effectively remove the pesticides of consumed vegetables and fruit?


Lynda McIntyre July 24, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Although it’s always a wise choice to thoroughly wash produce to remove superficial dirt as well as reduce the risk of contracting a bacterial illness such as Salmonella, even a thorough produce washing is unlikely to completely remove all chemical residue and pesticides. Pesticides and chemicals have the capability of penetrating the skin of the fruit and contaminating the inside. Remember to wash all fruits and vegetables even if they are organic, as well as fruits with inedible skins, such as melons. Using a mixture of 3 parts water to 1 part white vinegar is an effective wash to use.


Karen L July 24, 2013 at 9:41 am

GMO seeds also provide a heartier product which allows for more pesticides to be used without affecting the end growth result. A small seed could not possible absorb all the pesticides being used on a plant/crop. You can thank Monsanto for that. Oh, and your EPA for allowing larger quantities of herbicide glyphosate (the key ingredient in Roundup weed kill) in food crops. Check this article out yourself. Hot off the press. I guarantee it will lead you to do more research on your own. There are other stories on this page to inform you about what other pestisides the government is allowing in your food and environment and how over time your body reacts to them. I'm not a radical, I just think people need to be more aware of what they are putting into their bodies voluntarily and unvoluntarily.

Organic products from a market, not the average grocery store, have triple the shelf life of a non organic product. That should say something about using pesticides and their effects.

I respect Lynda's insights, but I believe reports like hers and the population's ignorance of what goes into our foods will never get us to a point where we are being notified in product packaging if a product is GMO or not. This happens in other states.


Lynda McIntyre July 24, 2013 at 2:14 pm

As I responded earlier, I would advise against GMO corn and its by products


Anita Hiler July 24, 2013 at 9:36 am

I plan to continue purchasing non-organic foods as I wash everything before I eat it. Also, I only buy produce from the USA. If it has another country on the label, it stays on the shelf.

Thank you for the wonderful article. I did enjoy reading it.


Laurent La Brie July 31, 2013 at 12:02 pm

European foods are non-GMO and have higher health standards than the US. I avoid the US as much as possible and go with the foreign foods. So, I'll follow you in the store and take what you leave. (-;


Janet July 24, 2013 at 9:29 am

Don't forget that you can pick up organically grown produce at the farmer's market, held Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Johns Hopkins' East Baltimore medical campus in the Jefferson Street pathway.


Amy Goodwin July 31, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Love the fresh veggies and it is so convenient to stop by when I'm at the hospital for a meeting.


Stuart erdman July 24, 2013 at 8:57 am

What about genetically modified food GMO
Especially corn ?
Their seed is modified to absorb the pesticides


Lynda McIntyre July 24, 2013 at 9:58 am

I am in agreement, when ever possible it is best to avoid GMO foods, especially corn. This would not necessarily decrease the amount of fruits and vegetables we eat, but as consumers would focus us on avoiding by products of GMO corn


Amy July 24, 2013 at 2:46 pm

How do you know if its Non GMO corn?

Amanda July 24, 2013 at 8:49 am

There is actually a growing body of evidence that pesticide ingestion may be linked to certain neurodegenerative diseases, such as parkinsons (e.g.

While it may just be a risk factor, "very few health issues could be attributed to those pesticides" is a bit of an overstatement.


Lynda McIntyre July 24, 2013 at 9:59 am

Therefore, our focus as a society should be to eat as much fresh food and whole grains as possible—regardless of whether it is organically grown or not.


Pam July 24, 2013 at 8:33 am

I could use some clarification on pesticides. My instincts tell me that they aren't good for you, but Lynda's comments are a bit confusing. She says that there are very few health issues that can be attributed to pesticides, and in another answer refers to conventional foods being "contaminated" with pesticides. Can she provide more detail on the harm of pesticides?


Lynda McIntyre July 24, 2013 at 9:59 am

Few conclusive studies have linked conventional fruits and vegetables with causing these diseases.


Jessica July 24, 2013 at 8:11 am

This article doesn't address any potential environmental impact of organic farming, which is another factor people cite in the decision to buy organic.


Lynda McIntyre July 24, 2013 at 10:00 am

There is reason to buy organic to decrease the environment impact. Many people cite this as a decision to buy organic.


Michael Keating July 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm

I buy organic foods for the taste, mostly, and I try and buy local as much as possible. The Sunday Farmer's Market under the I-83 Bridge is the best I've ever been to. Not only is it great food at mostly reasonable prices, but nice people and a fun time, too.


Lorilei Barsh July 10, 2013 at 11:24 am

Several years ago, I tried to purchase mostly organic foods, but to be honest, I tend to just buy regular conventional foods these days. One thing I do try to go organic on is meat, or at least antibiotic free meats.


Susan June 25, 2013 at 3:49 pm

I buy mostly organic when it's fresh but I try not to obsess. I participate in a community supported agriculture (CSA) share - where you contribute to a farm and every week, I pick up locally grown farm produce. It forces me to eat more vegetables and fruit and it's a value!


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