2023 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen
Recently, the Environmental Working Group (otherwise known as the EWG), has released its updated list of the 12 “dirtiest” and the 15 cleanest fruits and vegetables. The EWG tests randomized samples of produce from across the country in order to determine which products contain elevated levels of pesticides.
This list is a great tool to determine which fruits and veggies you should be buying organic and which ones you don’t have to!
But first, what are pesticides and why should we avoid them?
Pesticides are chemicals used in agriculture to protect crops from pests and diseases. While they help increase food production and ensure food security, the use of pesticides also has potentially negative effects on human health and the environment. Exposure to pesticides has been linked to various health issues, including skin irritation, respiratory problems, nausea, dizziness, headaches, and even cancer.
Pesticides can enter the human body through ingestion, inhalation, and absorption through the skin. Long-term exposure to pesticides has been associated with an increased risk of chronic health conditions. Therefore, it is important to limit exposure to pesticides and use them only when necessary, while taking all necessary precautions to protect oneself from their harmful effects.
Pesticides can interfere with the proper functioning of our body's systems, potentially leading to chronic health issues over time. To minimize exposure to pesticides, one can choose to eat organic foods that are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides or opt for foods that have been minimally treated with pesticides. Additionally, washing produce thoroughly before eating or cooking can help remove any pesticide residue on the surface. Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet can also support the body's natural detoxification process and help eliminate toxins, including pesticide residues.
The Dirty Dozen:
Kale, Collard and Mustard Greens
Bell and Hot Peppers*
Of the 46 different kinds of fruits and vegetables analyzed by the EWG, these 12 crops contained the highest levels of pesticides. Together, 210 different kinds of pesticides were found. Every crop on the list, aside from cherries, contained over 50 different kinds of pesticides.
The Clean Fifteen:
The clean fifteen are the fruits and vegetables you can skip buying organic, as they have the least amount of pesticide exposure.
Highlights from the EWG’s report:
The EWG reported that nearly 75% of non-organic fresh produce sold in the US contains residues of potentially harmful pesticides.
While strawberries have long been on top of the Dirty Dozen, Kale/Collard and Mustard Greens were only added in 2020. Over 90 different kinds of pesticides were found on leafy greens. One pesticide, in particular, DCPA, was most commonly found on leafy greens. DCPA has been classified as a possible human carcinogen, based on an increased incidence of thyroid and liver tumors in rats exposed.
Blueberries and green beans were the new additions to the Dirty Dozen this year. Both crops were found to contain concerningly high levels of pesticides that have been found to harm the human nervous system. These pesticides are called organophosphate insecticides. Several samples of green beans (6%) were found to contain a toxic pesticide that was banned by the EPA nearly 10 years ago.
The highest amount of pesticides were found on peppers, kale, collards, and mustard greens. The leafy greens contained 103 pesticides, while peppers tested for 101 different kinds of pesticides.
While not in the Dirty Dozen, citrus fruits were also spotlighted in a special report by the EWG. Oranges, mandarins, lemons, grapefruit, and especially tangerines contained concerning amounts of a fungicide (imazalil). This fungicide has been linked to cancer and hormonal irregularities. The average concentration of imazalil in the citrus tested by the EWG was 20 times more than the recommended limit to protect children from cancer. Moreover, more than 90% of citrus fruits had toxic pesticides on them when tested.
Importance of buying organic:
While we recommend buying all organic products, we also understand that this is not financially feasible for everyone. The Dirty Dozen is a great reference for which fruits and vegetables to prioritize buying organic.
Organic foods are held to much stricter standards than normal produce. A USDA Organic seal indicates that the product hasn’t been genetically engineered or exposed to GMOs. Most synthetic substances are banned in organic farming. Organic farming is also more sustainable than traditional farming due to the lack of toxins put in the soil and tt has also been shown that organic foods have higher levels of nutrients than non-organic.
It is also essential to not underestimate the potential risks of toxic pesticides on our produce. Pesticides accumulate in the colon, decreasing our beneficial bacteria, increasing inflammation and permeability. This can then lead to a slow spread throughout the body. Cancer, Alzheimer's Disease, ADHD, and birth defects have been linked to pesticides. Further, a recent study from Harvard University found that people who eat a greater quantity of crops high in pesticides had lower levels of fertility and were less likely to get pregnant than those who consumed fewer pesticides and followed a pro-fertility diet.