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Before I had kids, I didn’t read food labels. Heck, I barely read expiration dates.

But once my babies were born, I couldn’t stomach the idea of feeding them anything that might hurt them.

Not to get all Gwyneth Paltrow on you, but that’s when I started splurging on organic produce, hormone-free milk, grass-fed beef, free-range eggs and all the other stuff that seemed pretentious and unnecessary before my children’s arrival.

Eating lots of fruits and veggies is the best thing you can do for your health, so even if you can’t afford to buy organic, it’s still better to eat conventionally-grown produce than to eat none at all.

But if it’s important to you and you can afford it, buying organic is an awesome choice.

Every year, a group of researchers and scientists called Environmental Working Group puts out a report called “The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.” It analyzes the results of government tests on fruits and vegetables and gauges which ones have the most pesticide, fungicide and chemical residue.

Most recently, the group found that 67 percent of all produce that was tested had pesticide residue – even after it was washed or peeled!

It even found highly toxic chemicals that have been outlawed for use on food in this country.

Scary.

But what’s most helpful about EWG is that it puts together a list of the produce that is most commonly found to contain the highest levels of pesticides, along with another list of the produce that regularly tests clean, with little or no chemical residue.

The first list is called the “Dirty Dozen Plus,” and includes the most contaminated fruits and veggies. You should try to buy the organic versions of the foods on this list as often as possible.

It includes apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, hot peppers, imported nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, sweet bell peppers, leafy greens (especially kale and collard greens) and summer squash.

If you can only afford to buy some organics, buy the ones on the “Dirty Dozen Plus” list.

To save money, you can buy non-organic versions of the produce on the “Clean 15” list.

That list includes asparagus, avocadoes, cabbage, cantaloupe, sweet corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangos, mushrooms, onions, papayas, pineapples, frozen sweet peas and sweet potatoes.

Better yet, grow your own when you can.

email: schristmann@buffnews.com or call MoneySmart at 849-4612. Follow me at www.Facebook.com/DiscountDiva.