Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
12 Dec

7 Foods You Don’t Need to Buy Organic

A couple weeks ago, I gave you a list of the top 10 foods you should strive to buy organic. Some of you found the list useful, while others felt a bit overwhelmed and disheartened by the information, saying that it felt like they couldn’t eat anything that wasn’t organic. Today, I’ll try to make things a little better by giving you a list of the foods which are perfectly fine in their conventional form. However, even if the following conventional foods are relatively safe for your health, some would argue that you should still buy organic in order to support the workers and protect the environments exposed to agricultural chemicals. That’s totally valid, and it’s part of the reason why I try to buy organic, but it’s not what I’m discussing here. It’s a topic for another time. Today is about maximizing the health of you and your family while cutting costs when and where you can.

So, what common, Primal staples can you buy conventional?


You won’t see coconut on any Clean 15 or Dirty Dozen lists anytime soon, because the general public has yet to catch on to its fatty, nutty delights. That said, we Primal people eat coconut. We sauté with coconut oil and slather it onto vegetables, sweet potatoes, hair, skin, and armpits. We drink and make curries with coconut milk and cream. We obsess over coconut butter, paying tribute to its glory with a greasy spoon. And when we’ve been running or training particularly hard – or it’s hot out – we often reach for the coconut water. We like our coconut, so it’s in our best interest to determine whether we should be buying organic or not.

Luckily for us, it doesn’t look like organic coconut makes a big difference. Several studies have looked for pesticide residues in coconut products and come up virtually empty handed. There’s this 2008 study, which was unable to detect any pesticide residues in crude coconut oil. Poly-aromatic hydrocarbons, which are generated during the coconut flesh quick drying process and are carcinogenic, were detected in crude coconut oil but were removed in the refining process. Virgin unrefined coconut oil, then, may still contain these hydrocarbons, unless it’s wet-milled and processed without quick-drying the flesh. That goes for both organic and conventional coconut oil, to be clear.

In another study, researchers examined 15 samples of coconut water using two different methods of pesticide detection and were unable to detect any of the 11 pesticides they were looking for.

Coconut milk is also going to be as free from pesticides as any other coconut product. Since it’s made from fresh flesh, not the dried, heat-treated stuff, coconut milk should also be free of poly-aromatic hydrocarbons.


Onions don’t just make you cry for cutting them, they make pests weep at the thought of eating them. Onions are naturally resistant to pests, which is probably why just 0.3% of onions tested for chemical residue came up positive. Big Agra may cut corners and prioritize profit over quality or consumer health, but that just means they won’t fork out the money for chemicals if they don’t have to; they’re not comic book villains, dumping drums of noxious endocrine disruptors and carcinogens onto their crops to punish us. Not onion farmers, at least.

So, feel free to go wild with conventional onions, because there is very little, if any, advantage to organic onions from a health perspective. Unlike many other fruits and vegetables, conventionally grown onions have the same level of polyphenols as organically grown onions.


Avocados are another safe food that ends up with some of the lowest pesticide residues around. Maybe it’s the scaly skin and the way they just kinda “lurk” there up in tree tricking pests into thinking they’re up against alligators. Maybe it’s the fact that a bug got burned one too many times with a beautiful looking avocado that turned out to be stringy and brown on the inside. Maybe pests just hate waiting for an avocado to ripen (who doesn’t?) and give up. Actually, even though a somewhat significant amount of chemicals can be used on avocado orchards, they just don’t make it into the fatty, delicious flesh we crave and consume.

Avocado farmers, both organic and conventional, do use extensive amounts of copper as a fungicide. Copper is an essential nutrient, but too much can be harmful. A single Florida avocado contains 0.9 mg, which is about 100% of the RDI, so don’t go around eating several a day.


The idea of organic honey is fantastic – who wouldn’t want to eat honey produced by bees who dined exclusively on organic, wild, untouched, pure flowers? I sure would.

But the reality is that bees will be bees. They’re going to buzz around and get into trouble, and they’re not going to distinguish between organic and conventionally-grown plants. I suppose you could surround the bee with only organic plant life, but considering bees have an average range of five kilometers from the hive (and twice that when food is scarce), you’d have to control a lot of land to do it. Plus, you know how bees have those cute furry bodies? Yeah, that fur picks up all sorts of stuff from the air. Not only do you have to worry about non-organic pollen, you also have to contend with every non-organic airborne particle in the area.

Buy local honey. Buy raw honey. Buy honey from someone who raised the bees and (at least kinda sorta) knows where they spend their time. But don’t shell out extra money for organic honey unless you happen to really like that particular honey. Those first two characteristics – “local” and “raw” – should come before organic.


I love asparagus, but even I balk at the astronomical price of organic asparagus. Luckily, it’s one of the cleanest vegetables around. When you read that residues from nine different pesticides were found on it, though, you might get a little worried until you look a little closer and realize that the most prevalent of the chemicals – methomyl – was only detected on 3.3% of samples tested.

Organic might eliminate that small probability of pesticides showing up on your asparagus, but I don’t think it’s worth the price tag. Conventional should be just fine. If you’re really worried, domestic conventional (referring to the United States) is far better than imported conventional.

Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes are a hardy bunch, and the hardy among us – the athletes, the lifters, the highly active – sometimes need a bit of dietary starch to fuel their efforts. Conventional sweet potatoes are a fine choice. Their leaves sometimes get eaten by bugs, but since that rarely affects the viability of the underground tubers that people actually eat, farmers generally don’t feel the need to protect the leaves with agrochemicals.

However, sweet potatoes do sometimes have a problem with fungal growth after harvesting, and the tubers have been known to receive a quick dunk in a dicloran bath before being packed and shipped to curtail this. Dicloran (not to be confused with the flame retardant known as dichloran) is a fungicide that gets a “possible carcinogen” rating from “What’s on my food?” It’s also the only chemical to show up consistently in conventional sweet potatoes. On average, a kilogram of sweet potatoes contains 1.69 mg of dicloran. Based on toxicology studies that suggest a dicloran upper limit of 0.14 mg per kg of bodyweight, a 60 kilogram human can easily get away with consuming up to 8.4 mg of dicloran. Peel your sweet potatoes and you’ll get rid of even more.

Farmed Bivalves

I’ve mentioned this before in a previous post on farmed seafood, but farmed oysters, clams, and mussels are essentially “wild.” They’re not kept in ponds, nor are they given pesticide-rich soy and corn topped off with unsustainable fishmeal. Instead, they sit there attached to their moorings in actual ocean water acting like the filter-feeders they are. For all intents and purposes, the farmed bivalves you eat are identical to wild ones. As such, there would be little point to eating “organic” shellfish.

In 2002 (PDF), Greenpeace did an exhaustive survey of all the chemicals used in aquaculture to find out whether consumers eating the end product had anything to worry about. And, while they found extensive usage of parasiticides, anaesthetics, spawning hormones, oxidants, disinfectants and herbicides in fish and shrimp farming, only one instance of chemical usage in bivalve farming was found: northwest US oyster farming sometimes used carbaryl, an organophosphate that inhibits acetylcholine esterase and increases the levels of acetylcholine in the brain (which kills parasites but can actually enhance human brain function, provided you eat or make enough choline).

Organic bivalve farming standards are being unveiled, but, since “conventional” bivalve farming doesn’t use chemicals, those new standards won’t affect the amount of chemical residues that end up on your plate. Instead, they’ll be focused on managing sediment buildup from bivalve farming, with no impact on the actual nutrition of the animals. Regular old farmed bivalves are perfectly fine – and I recommend you eat oysters, mussels, and clams regularly.

That’s what I’ve got, guys. I hope some of you are pleasantly surprised and feel a little more empowered to make educated decisions on whether to buy organic or not. Remember: you have to eat something, and conventional fruits, vegetables, and animals are way better than not eating fruits, vegetables and animals at all.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to let me know if I missed any foods in the comment section!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Wanted to comment that in this country sweet potatoes and yams are essentially the same. One would have to go to Africa to get true yams.

    Jim McVean wrote on December 12th, 2012
  2. We now keep bees and harvest our own honey. Beware that most bees are FED SUGAR WATER and sprayed with chemicals for diseases. Unfortunately, even ‘organic’ honeybees are usually fed sugar water and sprayed. I got local honey from our farmers market for years where the bees were fed inorganic sugar water.

    Susan wrote on December 12th, 2012
  3. Just wanted to point out that using the word “organic” in any relation to seafood (of the saltwater variety) is a misnomer. There is no such thing as organic seafood, whether farmed or not, since there are pollutants in even the most remote areas of the oceans!

    That being said, please do your research on sustainable species and fishing practices beforehand. Searching ‘sustainable seafood advisory lists’ on wikipedia gives a great list of organizations. Although wild is usually best, mussels, for example, are actually more enviromentally-friendly when farmed- harvesting wild mussels can often involve dredging which damages the ocean floor.

    Kat wrote on December 12th, 2012
    • Mussels are one of my favorite foods. They are a MUST HAVE on my birthday! I’m glad to know the farmed ones are best.

      Ev Barney wrote on December 12th, 2012
  4. Thanks for helping my food budget! I’ve been popping the extra for organic coconut and avocado because of the fats, (all the poison is in the fat, right? Guess not!)

    Ev Barney wrote on December 12th, 2012
  5. Check out the slums of India and the leprosy settlements…..what can we do for them?

    jacquie wrote on December 12th, 2012
  6. urine of fasting people has been tested for chemicals, and high levels of pesticides show up. So they accumulate in our system (fat and cells in general).

    Riki wrote on December 12th, 2012
  7. A lot of people in this world dont have enough to eat, how can we as a compassionate affluent society helps those?
    This thought was triggered when I was thinking on feeding the world on organics. I eat largely organic and fresh local farmers market stuff, i am very fortunate i also have clean water. But i have memory flashbacks of some extreme poverty i had seen in.India.
    One fine day after a month of no fruits, i decided to go to the fresh market….it was 30 mins drive away in a tut tut, a motorised rickshaw, i saw a skeleton of a man, dressed in black, half his face almost gone, he sat on the floor in the street corner…..
    I felt his pain so greatly it blew me away. I wondered who his mother was, his sister, why hes left out like that, he looks like a leper (yes, there are leprosy settlements out of town)
    I arrived at the market, there were mountains of local produce, i lost my appetite for 3 days.

    jacquie wrote on December 12th, 2012
    • um, buy them food? I donate to charities regularly, in the mean time, take care of your health and that of the planet. pesticides ruin the environment, so it’s also about taking care of the planet we all live in, for without it, people have nowhere to live. So when you buy your organic food, you are making a responsible choice for the future of the planet. An investment in it. Meanwhile, give what you can of your time and money to those in need. Imagine if everyone did that? What a would it would be. Everyone can do their little bit. By doing your little bit, you encourage others to do theirs too.. people are all connected. People around me have given more to charities and gotten more involved because they were inspired by me….

      Riki wrote on December 12th, 2012
      • Contrary to what Monsanto would have us believe, there is no shortage of food in the world. There is, in fact, a surplus. The problem is that the poorest populations can’t afford that food.

        During the Great Famine in Ireland (1845-1852) an estimated one million people died because a single crop –the lowly potato– failed year after year. It’s hard to believe, but throughout the famine, Ireland actually EXPORTED large quantities of food to England! The food was there, the money to buy it wasn’t.

        Helga wrote on December 12th, 2012
      • “Charities are largely counterproductive. Their main beneficiaries are not the intended recipients, but the givers. They get some tax benefits, but mainly they get the holy high of do-goodism. Frankly, the idea of charity itself is corrupting to both parties in the transaction.

        “For instance, take Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Both are geniuses at their businesses. But they’re the type of geniuses I consider to be idiot savants. If they really wanted to improve the state of the world, they should continue doing what they do best, which is accumulating wealth. Or, actually, creating it – as opposed to dissipating it by giving it away. Giving money away breaks up a capital pool that could have been used productively by those who build it for making new wealth (which increases the amount of wealth that exists in the world).

        “Worse, giving money away usually delivers it into the hands of people who don’t deserve it. That sends the wrong moral message. People should have, or get, things because they deserve them. And you deserve things because you earn them. In other words, wealth should be a consequence of doing things that improve the state of the world. Endowing groups, or individuals, because they happen to have had some bad luck, or are perpetual losers, is actually immoral.

        “When money is given away, it’s almost as bad as government welfare. It makes it unnecessary for the recipient to produce, and that tends to cement him to his current station in life. The very act of making an urgent situation non-urgent takes away the incentive, the urgency, to improve.

        “Morally speaking, charity is not a virtue, it’s a vice”.

        =Doug Casey

        Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on December 14th, 2012
        • Amen brothah.

          Madama Butterfry wrote on December 17th, 2012
  8. Has anyone thought about the idea that these foods still have been altered. Look at the size difference between organic vs conventional. There’s not just a little difference the conventional foods fruits and vegs. are HUGE! Thats enough to keep me from buying anything conventional. Don’t forget about the bad fertilizers they use as well.

    Val wrote on December 12th, 2012
    • I went to a playgroup end-of-year morning tea party and someone brought conventional strawberries. The giant monster strawberry I bit in to made me want to gag; the flavour was bland, the texture was floury, but I was brought up to be polite so I finished it. Wish I’d never started it. Grotesque foodstuff.

      Madama Butterfry wrote on December 13th, 2012
  9. Ah, good to know about the coconuts. Here in Miami Beach, local hustlers chop down coconuts and sell them with a straw popping out to thirsty tourists. I’ve always wondered whether the crap they use to maintain the oceanfront park seeps into the coconut somehow…guess not!

    Victor Dorfman wrote on December 12th, 2012
  10. Mark’s comments on honey demonstrate just a few of many reasons to move yourself and your family to a place that is at least not near a city, not anywhere near industrial agriculture, not near industrial smokestacks or a paper mill, and has clean aquifers (i.e. not near FRACKING) that have not been polluted by dump sites, etc. If you take a better look at what these thing do to your health insidiously and constantly you realize that when you live in the presence of one or more of them you are running on a treadmill all the time just trying to avoid the toxic consequences. Its not worth it.

    David Marino wrote on December 12th, 2012
  11. Antibiotics have been detected in Chinese honey imported into North America. No surprise there I suppose.

    Dirk wrote on December 12th, 2012
  12. Please! The more we buy organic everything we can, the better for the planet!

    Anne Wayman wrote on December 12th, 2012
  13. Jack Lalane said not to worry about conventional vs. organic. I have gone back to conventional when they stopped using sulpher dioxide to preserve broccoli. It made me extremely fatigued. Once they stopped using it, I am fine eating non organic brocolli again.

    Dave wrote on December 12th, 2012
  14. How bout some nice non-organic soy??? God, I’m so pissed off as I made the mistake of watching Dr Oz today. Another frickin’ mouthpiece to keep people on the soy wagon. Anyone else see the pretty girl tell everyone that it’s ok to eat soy? The only part I could even somewhat agree on was the Miso – even then I wouldn’t eat it all the time. This bimbo is telling people to eat 2 servings a day!!! Sorry – had to vent!

    Jennifer wrote on December 12th, 2012
  15. I live across from conventional onion fields, our area grows huge amounts of the yellow Spanish onions. No pesticide is needed but they apply 8-9 applications of herbicide per season. Not a very environmental friendly crop considering fields are left bare after harvest and they require a lot of chemical fertilization. So safe to eat but organic would improve production practices.

    Tessa wrote on December 12th, 2012
  16. Vitacost makes a very affordable Coconut Oil;
    It tastes just as good as Artisana to me and very affordable.

    Joyce wrote on December 12th, 2012
  17. What’s the deal with Manuka honey? Is it really a superior type of honey worth the high price, or is that just marketing?

    Jen wrote on December 12th, 2012
  18. Few countries outside the USA, feed corn to cows & sheep. Grass fed is standard for many.

    Praxis wrote on December 12th, 2012
    • Hi Praxis, well, in Spain, where I live, cattle is fed grains, and GMO corn is grown in the North of the country. In France, they import GMO soybean from Argentina and feed it to cows. It’s become much harder than before to find grass fed beef, and prices are sky high.

      Anne wrote on December 13th, 2012
  19. Good list. I am actually careful with onions because quality varies greatly according to the amount of chemical fertilizers used. In Spain, the cheapest onions have a strange taste and don’t keep well. When I buy quality conventional or organic onions, they keep for several weeks and taste great.

    Anne wrote on December 13th, 2012
  20. Hello Mark,

    Great article, which will surely safe me a few pounds each month. However one thing did leave me confused as in the past you recommended only organic coconut product:

    “Now, the thing to note here is that in most coconut oil manufacturing processes chemicals are used to expedite drying as well as to speed the heating process. However, if you select an organic coconut oil, no chemicals will have been used during processing and the original coconut itself will have been grown without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.”

    But I presume that the mistake here is truly mine, and skipping some detail here.

    Dutch wrote on December 13th, 2012
  21. I am now rather confused about coconut oil re the carcinogenic Poly-aromatic hydrocarbons generated during the coconut flesh quick drying process, possibly still being present in Virgin unrefined coconut oil. So it is more or less saying buy refined oil or heat treated oil (wet-milled). I have always bought Tiana raw extra virgin organic coconut oil & Artisana raw organic coconut butter (would that apply to coconut butter as well?). Now I am confused. I suppose the Gold Label Tropical Traditions oil is the one to buy, but then I wonder if the anti-microbial action of the oil would be not so good in a heat treated oil? Anybody know please?

    Christine wrote on December 13th, 2012
  22. I wouldn’t worry about honey, bees (like frogs) are an indicator of pollutants in the environment. It’s not only pesticides that kill bees, many of the diffrerent chemicals used in the environment such as weed killers etc will kill bees. That being the case honey is relatively free of pollutants.

    Trish wrote on December 13th, 2012
  23. I have found that organic sweet potatoes taste better.

    Marc wrote on December 13th, 2012
  24. May have been mentioned already but I think that the foods with the thickest skins, and skins you don’t eat of course, are probably safest.

    Marcus wrote on December 13th, 2012
  25. I have seen coconut trees that had been drilled into the trunk and antibiotics inserted into the holes. This was in the Bahamas and the reason was the trees had some disease.

    giovanna wrote on December 13th, 2012
  26. When speaking of necessity for buying organic food some of us are aware of the benefits of locally grown organic food, but simply do not have enough money to buy everything organic. That’s why this article is good, it helps to make better and less bad decisions. And that’s what it’s all about, taking the best POSSIBLE, not doing everything perfect all the time.

    martha wrote on December 14th, 2012
  27. I’m afraid the issue with honey is a little more complicated than whether bees forage on conventional or organic flowers.
    Most hives are treated with pesticides that are very toxic. Typically they are treated after the honey is extracted but the residue from the chemicals remain in the wax which builds up over time. We do not know what happens when the pesticides that are put in the hives combines with the pesticides on the pollen the bees collect. There are of course beekeepers that use other “non-toxic” methods such as essential oils and physical methods to treat their hives.
    If you go with local, raw and small scale beekeepers chances are you will be better off. If you talk to the beekeeper you may want to ask them what they use to treat mites. But the unfortunate truth of the matter is that bees have a hard time surviving with out chemical interventions, at least on a commercial scale.

    Patty wrote on December 14th, 2012
  28. Regarding the question about Manuka honey, it does have proven anti-microbial activity and will heal skin lesions. On an anecdotal level I once ate a small amount after over-exercising, feeling completely depleted, and within half an hour I was totally energized. It was remarkable.

    Maidel wrote on December 14th, 2012

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