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Diet & Nutrition | Wellness
Asparagus spears

15 Organic Foods That Won’t Make You Healthier

Why you should look beyond the label

The organic food market is booming. In 2011, sales of organic food reached $30 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association.

For consumers, here’s the $30 billion question: Is going organic worth the money for health advantages?

“Organic” does not mean “more nutritious”

Definitions of “organic” may vary, but here’s the basic idea: Organic foods include plants and animals grown or raised without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, antibiotics, added hormones or ionizing radiation.

Research from 2012 suggests that organic foods are not significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. While they may reduce your exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the biggest difference for most foods is the price tag.

Going organic based on ethics, preferred farming methods or concern over pesticides is a valid personal choice. But if your main concern is nutritional value or other health factors, buying the following foods as organic may not be worth the extra expense.

The “clean 15” fruits and veggies

The Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy public health organization, produces an annual guide to pesticides in produce.

“Hold the pesticides — but bring on the fat, sugar and calories. The organic debate extends beyond fresh foods into the realm of processed snacks. And once again, perception often trumps reality.”

Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD

Wellness Institute

The results are compiled after analyzing more than 28,000 samples of produce collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. Based on the findings, the group produces a list of the 15 fruits and vegetables that are least likely to test positive for pesticide residues.

In other words, not only do these 15 fruits and vegetables pack the same nutritional punch in organic and non-organic varieties, you won’t cut your pesticide risk by opting for the more expensive option:

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Sweet Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Mushrooms
  • Onion
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Sweet peas (frozen)
  • Sweet potatoes

How the cookie marketing crumbles

Hold the pesticides — but bring on the fat, sugar and calories. The organic debate extends beyond fresh foods into the realm of processed snacks. And once again, perception often trumps reality.

In a Cornell University study, researchers asked 115 adults to estimate the caloric content of two cookies, one labeled organic and the other regular. Participants assumed that the organic label came with not only a lower calorie count but also better nutritional value. They also said they were willing to pay up to 23.4 percent more for the organic cookie.

The catch: Both cookies were exactly the same. The lesson for consumers: Dig deeper than a simple label.

For example, checking the nutrition facts is a much better basis for nutritional comparison. In most cases, even if a cookie is made with organic ingredients, it’s still a high-calorie indulgence.

Brigid Titgemeier, Nutrition Assistant at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, contributed to this article.

Tags: diet, healthy diet, nutrition, organic
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Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.

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  • Ceca

    If you didnt put corn on your list, i would probably buy your article! Corn is 90% of cases GMO, and buying organic corn is portant. I was wondering if the writer of this article is on Monsato pay roll????

    • Bill

      I agree that GMO corn is scary, but table corn – the types we eat – is not GMO. GMO corn tastes awful, therefore it’s used as feed for animals, for corn syrup, or in some processed items.

    • Darlene

      I completely agree with you!!!! corn is the most important one because of the GMOs!

  • Melissa

    Organic, however, is a non-GMO plant.

    • Kate

      That is not necessarily true. There are several companies that make “organic products” i.e. Back to Nature that are against labeling GMOs.

    • Health Hub Team

      Thank you for your comment. It’s true that choosing organic is one way to avoid most GMO foods if you are concerned about their potential effects. However, keep in mind that even with increasing regulation on what qualifies as organic, it’s still hard to guarantee that all organic food is free of GMOs.

      My main goal with this story is to explore the mistaken idea that organic food has more nutritional value and to point out non-organic foods that people can eat without fear of pesticides. There are, as I mentioned, many other reasons people choose organic, too. — Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD

  • Kate

    This article also doesn’t reference any of the environment impacts of conventional produce- something that certainly impacts EVERYONE’S health.
    Perhaps this impact is not as direct or palpable, but it affects our water quality, soil quality, air quality, etc. If factory farming continues, the impact on our food system, ecosystem and ultimately our health will be nearly insurmountable.

    • Bill

      You are so ignorant! I guess you rather buy your food ,clothing, vehicles, or whatever from other countries

  • Marky Michaels

    How can the writer be so uninformed about this? Certified organic may not have more nutritional value, but the absence of pesticides automatically makes it a healthier alternative.

    • Health Hub Team

      Thank you for the comment. In this article, we very intentionally focused only on foods identified by EWG as not containing pesticide residue. Interestingly, the same EWG report also includes a list of the opposite: conventionally grown produce that is more likely to contain pesticides. Those are cases when organic may be worth the extra cost if you’re concerned about pesticides. — Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD

      • Jerry

        GMO’s are bad news. Get with it.

        • Ruralwithabrain

          Nearly all GMO corn is ‘dent’ corn used as agricultural feed. If you eat at a restaurant , buy your frozen meal, meats, dairy or fresh vegetables (grown in manure enriched soil) you are eating GMO’s. Thank goodness that health freaks are not farmers like myself or urban/ suburban residents would starve to death!

  • Cindy

    This article is ridiculous. I suppose the next article written will be all about how the sky is really green and the grass is blue. Irresponsible write up.

  • Ryan Jeambey

    Organic produce TASTES better. The best fruits and veggies are the ones i will actually eat. I buy organic not only for the health benefits, but because it is the most delicious food out there.

    • AntoinetteMarie

      Try an organic apple. I didn’t believe it until I was at someone’s house and I started raving about their apples. She had no idea what I was talking about until we went shopping and I found out she bought organic applies.

    • gk

      The same old bla bla about trashing organic. What’s her point? Of course it’s because of farming practices and pesticide use. She needs to get with it!

  • Kyle Sklenka

    This only addresses the (potential) individual payoffs of eating organic. It doesn’t even mention the advantages of farming organic for the benefit of the environment. Sustainability anyone?

    • gk

      Come on, we can’t have any true ethics with regard to the corporate farming thugs that have wiped out 1000’s of family farms for their profits. Big kick-backs from Big Agra to those “farmers” willing to spray spray spray, destroy destroy destroy the soil they make their living on, not to mention the people in surrounding areas. Buy organic when possible, go to farmers markets and above all else, BUY LOCAL!

  • Mo

    It’s not necessarily true to say organics are not significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. The study can only compare a limited number of known nutrients. science is just starting to learn about a variety of novel phytochemicals that have great health benefits. Organics grown in rich soil will have more phytochemicals than those grown in synthetic fossil fuel based fertilizers.

    • barb

      I am disappointed in CCF’s stand on organics. I will consistently choose organic over conventional products in many cases. Even Dr. Oz,when asked if he had a choice between eating a conventionally grown apple or no apple, he would choose NO APPLE! That statement speaks !

      • Guinan

        Did you read the article? Do you see apples on her list of foods? No! For the foods on this list, the pesticide risk is no greater in non-organic foods than in organic foods. So, if your concern is pesticides, for the foods on this list, there is no advantage in buying the more expensive organic ones.

  • Cassina Tarsia

    I think that instead of talking about “nutritious” you should discuss SAFER! With our sweet corn already over 75% GMO, this corn is certainly not safe; and on top of being GMO within a very short time it will also have agent orange sprayed on it … that’s right, the very same chemical which was sprayed on the Vietnam jungles during the Vietnam war which caused so many problems! If Dow has its way – and the FDA is usually very “flexible” – GMO corn is slated to be sprayed with agent orange as soon as the FDA clears the way … and with no labeling no one will know what they are eating!
    As long as we are talking GMO, Hawaiian papaya is also over 50% GMO, but with a very high contamination rate for organic papaya seed … it has come to the point that Hawaii has begun to ban GMO papaya, although it hasn’t happened yet.
    When it comes to underground vegetables that you mentioned, I would not like to eat what has been exposed to the pesticides directly in the root … like potatoes and onion. And leafy vegetables where you eat where it is sprayed directly. Come on, let’s be realistic – you can’t wash off pesticide that is sprayed directly on the leaves or has been in contact with the root. Enough!!! Is it not better to just be safe and eat organic instead of taking a chance – a very great chance – of eating food that can poison you after a few years? Organic is the only way to be really safe.

  • T

    Writer of this article needs to write with more nuance. Not containing pesticide residue is a blanket statement that is untrue. They may be less likely to have pesticide residue but given the risks associated with ingesting pesticides organic give you 100% assurance. Worth the extra costs if you can afford it or value it enough because it advances organic farming practices and that has health a dvatges that impact health of all of us and our planet. Think harder please. It matters.

  • Mark Wilyum

    “Going organic based on ethics, preferred farming methods or concern over pesticides is a valid personal choice.” REALLY? WOW! This is for many of us the main reason to buy organic. So how can you call the health issue the $30 billion dollar question? (Besides, there’s a ‘public health’ issue you ignore.) Do you hold us in that low esteem to imply our food choices are not based on ethics? Moreover, it does not inspire much confidence for a medical center like the Cleveland Clinic not to acknowledge, in this topic, the relevance and importance of non-therapeutic use of antibiotics by the meat/dairy industry. After seeing the link between non-therapeutic antibiotic use on factory farms and increased antimicrobial resistance, the American Medical Association, the CDC, the Institute of Medicine, and the WHO, have all called for a ban. This is to say nothing of the systematic abuse and unspeakable cruelty inherent in modern industrial farming methods. Yes, you focus on fruits and veggies in your piece, but you’re still distorting the issue by implying that “ethics” is not a main consideration for food choices, and if you’re talking about the organic food debate, meat and dairy are a HUGE part.

  • Terry Ryan

    Sweet corn? You just lost all credibility.

    • Kevin Folta

      Sweet corn is incredibly clean. Any residues are on the outside of the husks and when purchased through most places is conventionally grown. Looking forward to the next season. I’ll eat it right off the stalk, no washing, no cooking. Delicious as-is!

  • http://anandamayam.com/ Mike Dacre

    I think this is an important discussion, it is true that organic foods are largely not any more nutritious than their non-organic counterparts, this has been shown and replicated by many studies in the last decade, plus it just makes sense: why would organic food be more nutritious? There is no plausible mechanism that I can think of… if anything it could be less nutritious due to lower fertilizer use and higher parasite burden.

    The debate on pesticide use is much more subtle and less supported by data. We know that individual pesticides are not directly toxic to humans (mostly), however there are no data on the effects of many different pesticides with similar mechanisms of actions being used together. We know that the levels of pesticides on washed fruits and vegetables are incredibly low, but we don’t know very much about the effects of lipid bio-accumulation of lipophilic pesticides. We know that it is possible to detect these pesticides in breast milk, but we don’t know if that is a problem or not. Health food folks assume it is, chemists and food producers assume it isn’t, but no one actually knows. Most likely some are very bad, and others are harmless, however we won’t know without more research… and that research is not coming any time soon.

    The debate on the environmental effects of pesticide and synthetic fertilizer use is very simple though: it leads to massive die-outs of native species, particularly plants and insects, and to eutrophication of water ways and other delicate ecological niches.

    The problem I have with this article is not that it is wrong, Kristin, you are actually completely write. Furthermore, your desire to rectify the prevalent illusion that organic food is healthier is well placed: such illusions are never helpful. As you point out, it is common for humans to latch onto a single measure of ‘health’ such as ‘it is organic’, and then ignore the fact that organic sugar and salt (is it even possible to have ‘organic’ salt? ;-) (no) ) are still bad for you in high quantities. This is absolutely true, I see it all the time, and it is right to rectify the illusion that just because it is ‘organic’ it is ‘healthy’, which is absolutely not true.

    The problem I have with this article is the same problem I have with every single piece of research on this topic: they seem to be designed to muddy the waters of the debate. You over-simplify the issue here, and confuse your readers. By stating that ‘“Organic” does not mean “more nutritious”’ you confuse your readers. They may never have thought that organic was healthier before, but now you have created a new illusion for them: that the reason they bought organic was because it was more nutritious. You then debunk that belief system, and leave them confused about why they ever bought it in the first place. This is a classic straw man logical fallacy, which you then use to create a virtual false dichotomy: ‘If it ins’t better for you, then there is no point in buying it’.

    This is an incredibly dangerous argument, because the truth is that nutritional value has absolutely no importance to the organic debate, none at all. Not even a little bit. The importance of organics is that the incredible over-use of fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides in modern agriculture leads to massive losses in bio-diversity. It degrades our environment, the only environment we have. Furthermore, we have very little data on what trace amounts of these chemicals, and their associated heavy metals, do when they accumulate in our water and on our food.

    I buy organic not because I believe artificial fertilizers, or GMO, are ‘wrong’ or bad. I buy organic because in our world large agricultural companies over-use these modern marvels to the detriment of all of us. They pump their animals full of antibiotics, which makes all of us sicker, they fill the water-ways with fertilizers, which essentially sterilizes them, and they purge vast swaths of country-side of all predatory insects, causing massive pest booms. Modern agriculture is poorly researched, poorly controlled, and quite frankly dangerous. That is why I buy organic.

    In the future, please be careful not to do damage to important debates through straw man arguments. It is fine, and even important, to discus the topic of nutrition and organics, but please include at least a few good paragraphs on the true organic debate. Don’t create the illusion that organics are important because they are more ‘nutritious’. Westerners are all fat and well nourished anyway.

  • Sydney Jay

    Welp, we can see from the comments which suckers have been spending twice as much as they had to on a bogus marketing label that means practically nothing. Hurts to know you’ve been had, doesn’t it?

    Ms. Kirkpatrick’s helpful article is actually quite in line with current peer-reviewed, science-based literature, which finds little to no nutritional benefit in going organic (and NUTRITION is the question here, not pointless asides about the environment or pesticides, which are below allowable levels in both organic and conventional foods):

    http://health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2012/09/03/organic-foods-not-healthier-or-more-nutritious-study-says

    http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20090730/organic-foods-not-more-nutritious

    • Mark Wilyum

      If organic foods and non-organic foods are equally healthy, then nutrition is no longer a useful criterion for choosing between the two. I’ve never cared a bit about the nutrition question. Thus, we want to know more. Given that 99% of meat comes from factory farming how do we decide about buying industrial animal agriculture products? e.g. the tens of millions of pounds of antibiotics being pumped into the genetically grotesque creatures, whose disgusting flesh the meat industry is selling us. From farm to fridge, get informed…

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T48yOYjz5sk

      Hurts to know you’ve been had? Hurts to know we’ve been supporting an industry that tortures animals and passes the burden of ecological destruction on to the public.

  • Kevin Folta

    A couple of quick points. Organic does not mean pesticide free. Organic production can use, and does use, pesticides. They use Bt, the same protein in GM plants. They also use copper, and plenty of it, a heavy metal.

    Plant products produced using ionizing radiation can be grown in organic production systems. No problem.

    The “clean 15″ and “dirty dozen” EWG lists are complete garbage. Every grower attempts to minimize any insecticide, fungicide, etc application, and everything must be used within stringent guidelines. These materials cost time, money, fuel, labor… plus farmers want to produce the best product.

    The alarmist EWG nonsense hurts American farmers that bring us great products year ’round.

  • Universal-mind.ca

    Going organic goes a lot deeper than iust sugar,and fat, it goes to a DNA level, the point where it is literally eating your stomach lining because stupid scientists think that messing around with the DNA will be better for the organisms as well as us.. Also I would much rather buy local organic, and stop providing money to these elite/ nwo / bilderberg whatever you call them. I think that why people should go organic not because it sounds healthier but because it means you are trying to make the world a better place.

  • Michael P Sumners

    Makes me wonder how our education dollars are spent.

  • Claudia Safarz

    I don’t think the topic here is about organic vs. non organic. The issue here is that people think that they are eating packaged processed high calorie content foods that are as harmful as any other processed food. Now, when you say that the organic foods listed will not make you healthier is not a correct statement. Foods with pesticides are harmful, period. Therefore, by eating those foods you will become healthier. Regarding the cost, the organic market is becoming quite competitive and one can eat organic non processed foods for the same cost as non organic. It will require a bit of work and research, but well worth it.

  • Ryan

    You don’t mention anything about the difference in taste. That I would say is the biggest difference. Organic foods tend to be sweeter and richer in flavor as compared to their non-organic counterparts.

  • johnnyrunfast

    I am curious as to what fruits and veggies this articlei s based on. Some studies I have read state there is a cost nutrient benefit, stating that although the fruits and veggies cost more they are actually providing more nutrients. Also the serving size the study is based on may skew the factor of significance with the studies that do not find a nutrient benefit. Regardless, there are some foods that are less toxic than others. However, I’d rather be safer than sorry! One can always easy better, but you can’t always reverse cancer.

  • Rae

    Having grown up helping take care of the family garden, I always think that organic means it has worms in it.

  • Ron Heasley

    The headline of the article is VERY misleading as these foods will ALL make you healthier. Shame on the Cleveland Clinic for publishing this garbage.

  • Amanda Turner

    I don’t like the headline. It’s written negatively. An advantage to eating organic Corn is that it guarantees that it’s not genetically modified! Other than that, the list is good because it gives people peace of mind. They can eat healthy and not worry about the pesticides.

  • John O’Brien

    And isn’t more expensive because all of food is subsidized by the our taxes (paying twice) and the organic farmers have to pay an “organic labe” tax. It shoud be the other way around!

  • lea

    Love how you have sweet corn on the list but don’t mention GMO which most corn is and not healthy

  • jeremy

    I can’t believe you guys published this… The health benefits of not eating GE fruits and veggies is huge(organic)… you should be embarrassed.

  • jeremy

    Why not write an article on the harm of consuming pesticides, growth hormone and round up?

  • Jerry

    Have to disagree with you. 90% of corn is GMO and so is Papaya. Sweet Potatoes are usually sprayed heavily and so is Pineapple. I work in the Lab of a Pesticide Plant. Eat Organic. Don’t take chances with your health. Take charge of your health.

  • Jerry

    How about GMO’s . Talk about bad for you! CC needs to update itself

  • Hezi Green

    Calorie is only a stupid number that has nothing to do with the nutrients in the food. Low calorie is usually low nutrients. When discussing organic you have to discuss the farming practice that preserves the soil!

  • mrsg

    I am not terrbly concerned about eating GMO foods(I know many people do not agree), but I am absolutely horrified at the use of Roundup in the vast quantities that are used to raise GMO foods. It.s already in the air and water in many areas in measurable amounts. It may be one of the factors affecting honeybees. Because of environmental concerns, I try to avoid GMO products.

  • Dan W – former pt

    This article does not bring GMOs into play. Why eat corn that produces its own pesticides? I won’t touch it. The same goes for papaya.

  • Ian

    Thank you. This is a very helpful, straightforward and unbiased article. (Unlike 99% of the internet’s content, as one can always tell from the comments section, the other 99% is agenda- and emotion-driven)
    How refreshing and informative!

  • Lara

    It would be interesting to know who funded the study. This article came up as a sponsored article on another site. Fairly sure the Cleveland Clinic is not paying for advertising.

  • tellthetruth

    Yet more misdirection from another propaganda flunky. Organic versus conventional prpduce and meats has nothing to do with the nutrients in the product. It never jas and people understand that. Until some organization attempting to look like an “authority” comes in and tries to confuse the facts. The benefits to organic are due to the lack of pesticides and antibiotics. It these components that make conventional food LESS HEALTHY. tbere no point eating an apple if tje filth pumped into it is going to give you multiple illness, primarily the most prominent side affect of which is CANCER. But hey..lets convince the sheep conventional foods are fine so we can continue to produce sick people who need medical treatment which is how we line our pockets.

  • luvmyheart71

    Organic foods cost too much in every grocery store across the United States.
    If you wash every food of before eating the whole thing, like vegetables and some fruits-the pesticides are washed away.
    Organic foods are raised in green houses-located inside science buildings. And they are not treated by pesticides-which is a controlled environment by the United States government.

  • luvmyheart71

    We can support farmers all over the United States if we are buying Organics foods from grocery stores.

  • luvmyheart71

    Everyone baby born on this earth, has been eating pesticides since birth. If we didn’t wash our foods before eating them, we wouldn’t live very long. Pesticides and other chemicals are dumped into the air we breath, water we drink, and into foods we eat every day. Buying organics foods does not support our Farmers.
    Organic foods and farm animals are raised in a controlled-biogentic labs all over the United States.

  • Catmom

    Ditto the GMO observation by Ceca. I know this article is two years old, but GMOs aren’t new, even though they become more invasive every year. Statistically 70% of all food sold in the USA is or contains GMOs. So not only is your article out of date it is dangerously incorrect and irresponsible.