Q. Organic—or Not? Is Organic Produce Healthier Than Conventional?

By Marissa Lippert, M.S., R.D., EatingWell In Season: The Farmers' Market Cookbook (2009)

Organic—or Not? Is organic produce healthier than conventional?

A. There are at least two good arguments for eating organic: fewer pesticides and more nutrients. Let’s start with pesticides. Pesticides can be absorbed into fruits and vegetables, and leave trace residues. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, pored over the results of nearly 51,000 USDA and FDA tests for pesticides on 44 popular produce items and identified the types of fruits and vegetables that were most likely to have higher trace amounts. Most people have no problems eating conventionally grown produce but if you feel strongly about pesticide residues, the EWG’s list below should help you shop.

As for nutrients, in 2007 a study out of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom reported that organic produce boasted up to 40 percent higher levels of some nutrients (including vitamin C, zinc and iron) than its conventional counterparts. Additionally, a 2003 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that organically grown berries and corn contained 58 percent more polyphenols—antioxidants that help prevent cardiovascular disease—and up to 52 percent higher levels of vitamin C than those conventionally grown. Recent research by that study’s lead author, Alyson Mitchell, Ph.D., an associate professor of food science and technology at the University of California, Davis, pinpoints a potential mechanism to explain why organic techniques may sometimes yield superior produce.

It’s a difference in soil fertility, says Mitchell: “With organic methods, the nitrogen present in composted soil is released slowly and therefore plants grow at a normal rate, with their nutrients in balance. Vegetables fertilized with conventional fertilizers grow very rapidly and allocate less energy to develop nutrients.” Buying conventional produce from local farmers also has benefits. Nutrient values in produce peak at prime ripeness, just after harvest. As a general rule, the less produce has to travel, the fresher and more nutrient-rich it remains.

A 2008 review by the Organic Center of almost 100 studies on the nutritional quality of organic produce compared the effects conventional and organic farming methods have on specific nutrients. The report’s conclusion: “Yes, organic plant-based foods are, on average, more nutritious.”

Bottom line: “Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables in general is the point,” says Mitchell. If buying all organic isn’t a priority—or a financial reality for you—you might opt to buy organic specifically when you’re selecting foods that are most heavily contaminated with pesticide and insecticide residues. See next page for a handy chart for common fruits and vegetables.


Preferably Organic
—Most Commonly Contaminated*

If Budget Allows, Buy Organic

It’s Your Call
—Least Commonly Contaminated

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines
  • Grapes
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Blueberries
  • Lettuce
  • Kale/Collard Greens
  • Green Beans
  • Summer Squash
  • Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Raspberries
  • Grapes - Domestic
  • Plums
  • Oranges
  • Cauliflower
  • Tangerines
  • Bananas
  • Winter Squash
  • Cranberries
  • Onions
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapples
  • Avocado
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet Peas
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Watermelon
  • Sweet Potato
  • Grapefruit
  • Mushrooms

*Listed in order of pesticide load
Source: Environmental Working Group. Go to for updates. Updated June 2011.


Both organic and non-organic farming methods have both their ups and downs. There is no black and white better solution. While GMO has a bad reputation mainly because Monsanto has aggressive patent protection (basically suing the crap out of anyone who tries to spread the knowledge of GMO), GMO foods basically do what organic farming is trying to do, albeit more efficiently and with better results. Organic farming, while typically 20% to even 50% less efficient than conventional farming, encourages biodiversity and keeps pests at bay with crop rotation and other good farming methods.

The biggest problem however is both sides are spending millions and millions into just making propaganda to make claims that consumers must pick sides in the organic vs non-organic battle. The thing is, there are no sides. If the proponents on both sides just realised how petty their arguments were, and actually started *working together* to combine the best of both worlds, this place would be a lot happier...


05/21/2015 - 12:55am

Did you know that approx 50% of organic pesticides are carcinogenic? Did you know that it requires 2.5x the amount of organic pesticide to do what conventional pesticides do? Did you know that the FDA doesn't regulate organic pesticides in regard to health and safety the way they do conventional? And did you know that USDA organic certification allows for the routine use of a short list of organic pesticides?

Do you know your food growers? You should...


05/14/2015 - 3:38pm



04/24/2015 - 8:59am

It's not just about eating organic to reach optimal nutrition. We are in a organic revolutionary war. We are telling the government and coprate America that does not care about our Heath of the 99%. Buying organic and local is about telling coprate America we want change, we want variety, we want non gmo produe, and heirloom tomatoes. And potatoes n apples that are not a year old to let pesticide residues to a safe enough level to consume. We want community and mom and pop shops, we want ugly fruit that has odd shapes and funny carrot pants, not hundreds of apples that are so perfect that they look like God grew them himself.
So go outside, plant a garden, you won't have to spray harmful chemicals, see want real produe is all about.


01/19/2015 - 8:29pm

I agree with the previous comment about learning to learn, especially after reading the comment about poison and other countries refusing U.S. crops. Good god people, get real! If you're going to pollute the internet with such absurdities, at least do some homework first and ensure your own comments are truthful, honest, clear and concise!


01/07/2015 - 9:27am

And by the way..keep up with the studies because this claim no longer holds water.


01/05/2015 - 11:01pm

There maybe some benefits to organic, but those benefits are way overblown by people. I avoid buying it precisely because of food nazis.


01/05/2015 - 11:01pm

"I eat pizza, mc donalds all greasy foods so what the purpose OF organic"

I am sure you are young and if you continue on that path I wish you the best. It will catch up with you.


12/23/2014 - 3:54pm

the problem is we do not really know what the truth is. we are not scientists or food experts.we have to rely on other people for our information, and a lot times their info is contaminated, not with pesticides but with special your guess is as good as mine as what is good to eat and not.


11/29/2014 - 12:30pm

I am also doing a research paper on organic foods. We want to believe that organic foods are healthier and better for us, but so far in my research of internet sources and scholarly articles, there is really no difference. Which is also making me very dumbfounded and hard to write this paper lol


11/11/2014 - 2:15am

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