Step into any health food store, and you may feel as though you've stepped into an alternate universe: On those earthy-crunchy shelves, you're likely to find an organic version of just about everything, including cotton candy and chewing gum. While it's true that organic "junk foods" are better for the planet (possibly due to less packaging or more environmentally sound manufacturing processes), they generally aren't better for you.
Similarly, certain fruits and vegetables that are available in organic varieties may be just fine in their conventional form.
A shopping guide created by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) includes a list of the "clean 15" — the conventional produce selections that are lowest in pesticides and therefore OK to purchase.
The bottom line is that you needn't go organic across the board. Here are some items that you can confidently buy in conventional form:
Low calorie or sugar-free items: If organic sugar-free cookies sound too good to be true, they probably are. Check the label for artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. If you're trying to keep it natural, you're better off choosing a non-organic baked treat that's free of fake sugars.
Seafood: Whether caught in the wild or farmed, fish can legally be labeled organic, even though it may contain contaminants such as mercury and PCBs, according to the Consumer Union. That's because the USDA has not yet developed organic certification standards for seafood.
Onions: These underground wonders rank lowest on the EWG's pesticide-load list. Stock up with conventional onions at the supermarket, and store them in a cool, dry place such as a pantry closet or low-humidity refrigerator door.
Frozen sweet corn: So much easier to prepare and enjoy than shucking niblets from the cob, and readily available year-round, conventional frozen corn is considered extremely low in pesticides. Use it in soups or cornbread mix.
Tomatoes: More than half of the tomatoes screened by the EWG contained no detectible pesticides, though they were most likely to have evidence of more than one kind of pesticide.
Watermelon: Just over one-quarter of the EWG's samples showed evidence of pesticides. Ripe watermelons usually are a uniform color inside and shiny outside.