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Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 | September 11, 2013

As fresh organic farmers’ markets wind down and we head back to the grocery stores for our produce, we have a choice: organic or conventional?  When shopping, people are always looking for bargains and ways to stretch their dollar as far as possible.  With the cost of food steadily rising, many consumers feel that buying pricey organic food is just not an option for them.

There are many benefits to eating organic foods that have had no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers sprayed on them.  Buying organic food promotes a less toxic environment for all living things.  Feeding the soil with organic matter instead of synthetic fertilizer has shown to increase nutrients in the soil, resulting in higher levels of vitamins and minerals in organic food, according to the 2005 study, “Elevating Antioxidant Levels in Food Through Organic Farming and Food Processing.”  By eating organic, you avoid consuming pesticide residue that can often be left on conventionally grown produce.

While the health implications of consuming trace amounts of pesticides have not been proven, many people are erring on the side of caution and choosing organic.  It’s no secret, however, that organic food is more expensive than its conventionally grown counterparts.  That’s what make the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) annual list of the Dirty Dozen Foods so useful.

The EWG take pesticide residue data collected from the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and analyzes it to come up with a list of the 12 most pesticide-contaminated produce items.  The USDA does insist that the government sets the allowable limits of pesticide residue at safe limits, but many feel those limits are set entirely too high.

The EWG estimates consumers could reduce their pesticide consumption by 80 percent simply by choosing organic when buying these 12 foods.  So while it may not be an option for everyone to go organic completely, you may find it worth the extra money when buying foods off this list:

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines – imported
  • Grapes – imported
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Blueberries – domestic
  • Lettuce
  • Kale/collard greens

A new list was added last year.  The “Clean 15” is a list of fruits and vegetables that have little to no trace of pesticides and are safe to consume in non-organic form.  This list includes:

  • Onions
  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Mango
  • Sweet peas
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Sweet onion

The foods that are less prone to sucking up pesticides have more of a protection defense because of the outer layer of skin.  Most of the Clean 15 list has protective skins.  Not the same for strawberries and berries.

The proven benefits of consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables most likely outweighs the potential hazards of pesticide residue consumption, but if it is an option, go organic!

For more information on the specific levels of pesticides found, and for a full list of all 53 fruits and vegetables tested, go to www.ewg.org.