The term “dirty dozen” describes the fruits and vegetables that retain the highest pesticide residue even after washing.
If you’re trying to eat in a more natural and healthy way, chances are you’ve been exploring organic foods. Since organic produce can be costly, this often leads to the question of whether it really matters if you buy organic fruits and vegetables. For some foods, it matters quite a bit more than others.
The Dirty Dozen
Eating organic produce helps reduce your body’s exposure to dangerous pesticides that may remain on food even after washing. In addition to being better for you, organically grown foods leave a smaller carbon footprint and create a safer working environment for farmers than conventionally grown varieties. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford or even has access to all organic produce.
The term “dirty dozen” describes the fruits and vegetables that retain the highest pesticide residue even after washing. Buying organic when it comes to purchasing a member of the dirty dozen can reduce your pesticide exposure by up to 80 percent, even if the rest of the produce you eat is not organic!
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes an updated list of the dirty dozen every year.
1. Apples: More than 40 different pesticides have been found in conventionally grown apples, making this an important fruit to buy organic. You can protect yourself somewhat by peeling non-organic apples, however you’re also loosing important nutrients. Remember to look for organic applesauce and apple juice as well.
2. Celery: Even though it doesn’t fall into the three categories of food most likely to have high pesticide residue (leafy greens, berries and tree fruits), the USDA has found more than 60 different pesticides on conventionally grown celery.
3. Strawberries: Because they are such a heavily sprayed crop, strawberries make the dirty dozen list every year. Interestingly, fewer pesticides have been found on frozen strawberries than fresh ones.
4. Peaches: These fruits also make the list every year with more than 60 pesticides found. You’ll find fewer residues on canned peaches than fresh, but why not just eat a fresh, organic peach?
5. Nectarines: These delicious cousins of peaches may have up to 33 different kinds of pesticides on them, particularly if they’re imported. Domestic nectarines tested better, but if you’re unsure, organic is the safer choice.
6. Spinach: You’ll be eating the residue of almost 50 different pesticides on fresh, conventionally grown spinach, and frozen varieties aren’t much better. Canned spinach contains somewhat fewer pesticides.
7. Imported grapes: If you can’t find organic grapes and raisins, at least make sure to buy grapes that were grown in the United States. Imported grapes contain over 30 different kinds of pesticides.
8. Bell peppers: Close to 50 different pesticides have been found on non-organic sweet bell peppers with all the colorful varieties being equally risky.
9. Potatoes: The idea that our baked potatoes, fries and mashed potatoes could contain dangerous pesticides is hard to swallow. Sadly, the USDA found more than 35 of these chemicals in this popular root vegetable.
10. Blueberries: More than 50 different pesticides have been found on conventionally grown blueberries. Frozen blueberries contain somewhat less residue.
11. Lettuce: That fresh green salad you’re eating may contain more than 50 types of pesticides if you’re eating conventionally grown lettuce. Luckily organic lettuces are readily available in most supermarkets.
12. Cucumbers: Rather than having to peel your cucumbers and losing all that nutrition, organic cucumbers are the healthier alternative.
Sadly, two more otherwise super healthy foods have been added to the dirty dozen list. Green beans and greens such as kale and collards have been found to contain pesticides of particular concern.
The Clean Fifteen
The good news is that not all foods retain that much pesticide residue. The EWG has dubbed these safer conventionally grown fruits and vegetables The Clean Fifteen:
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet peas
- Cantaloupe (domestic)
- Sweet potatoes
The Dirty Dozen Infographic
Which Foods Are Genetically Modified?
A number of common fruits and vegetables are now also grown in genetically modified varieties. While some authorities say these foods are safe, a number of scientists and other experts have expressed serious concerns about the long-term health effects of GMO foods. Since no law requires genetically modified foods to be labeled as such, knowing whether or not your produce has been genetically modified becomes challenging.
Organic foods by law can’t contain genetically modified organisms. Because of this, you can rest assured you’re not buying GMO foods when you choose organic. Only some fruits and vegetables are currently sold in GMO varieties, so you don’t have to buy all organic to avoid GMO produce. Here are some foods that now may legally be genetically modified in the U.S.:
- Sugar beets
- Yellow squash.
Keep in mind that in addition to the produce itself, you’ll want to choose organic products when it comes to prepared foods that use GMO produce as ingredients, for example corn syrup, soybean oil or soy protein.
Trying to improve your diet can become overwhelming at times – try not to worry too much if you can’t always find the organic foods you’re looking for. Of course organic is the purest, healthiest choice, however any fresh produce is a better choice than overly processed foods filled with artificial additives, sugar, unhealthy fats and salt.
So do your best, relax and give yourself a pat of the back for increasing the amount of fresh natural foods in your life.