Is The Produce You Are Buying Really Good For You? An Introduction to The Dirty Dozen & The Clean 15

Here is a popular question we are often asked, "Does buying organic produce and fruits really matter?" Our answer is always a resounding YES!

Of course the next thing we are told is that buying organic is too expensive. Now we can agree on that, partly. Some organic foods can be expensive especially if they are not in season. The question we ask back is, "What is your health worth to you?"

In 2010 the US used 1.2 BILLION pounds of pesticides. Did you hear that-1.2 billion pounds! And it is in your food which you eat and put into your body to fuel and nourish it. In fact the US uses more than 2/3 of all pesticides used in the world to grow the food you serve at your table.

Are pesticides really dangerous to our health or is it a gimmick? In its yearly Shoppers Guide, The Environmental Working Group ("EWG") states,

 "Pesticides are toxic by design" and goes on to say, "Pesticides are designed to kill living organisms. The implications of wide scale pesticide pollution of Americans bodies have not been explored."

Now I don't know about you but I do not feel comfortable being an involuntary participant in this kind of experiment. Especially since many other countries have prohibitions on some of the very pesticides used on US soil.

What we do know is that The Center for Disease and Control ("CDC") found pesticides in 96% of more than 5,000 Americans aged 6 and over (CDC National Biomonitoring Program, 2009).

Does this mean you have to buy everything organic? The good news is no. The EWG produces a yearly list of the produce that has the highest pesticide exposure called, "The Dirty Dozen". This list changes yearly and is a great place to start to reduce pesticide exposure.

The 2011 report lists the following as the most heavily exposed (from highest to lowest): apples, strawberries, peaches, spinach, nectarines (imported), grapes (imported), sweet bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries (domestic), lettuce and kale/collard greens.

In addition to The Dirty Dozen, EWG also produces a list of The Clean 15. These are the 15 produce items at the lowest end of the pesticide spectrum, namely (from lowest to highest): onions, sweet corn*, pineapples, avocado, asparagus, sweet peas, mangoes, eggplant, cantaloupe (domestic), kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, grapefruit and mushrooms.

*A note about sweet corn, though low on the pesticide list there is a high chance that conventional corn is genetically modified ("GM"). We will be covering GM foods in tomorrow's blog entry so stay tuned.

So what does all this mean? When selecting produce and fruits use The Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 to make wise choices for your health and minimize the risk of pesticide exposure. For items on the Dirty Dozen buy organic and if that is not possible try to not to eat, those items on The Clean 15 are (relatively) safe to eat conventionally grown.

Print out the list at and post on your refrigerator. To get cheaper organic prices shop at your farmers market where possible and buy items that are in season. Of course if possible grow your own food from heirloom seeds.

And remember that by choosing foods lower on the pesticide spectrum you are not only protecting your own health but also that of the farm workers, wildlife, water supplies and the planet.

Where do you stand in this discussion? Do you buy organic or do you think it is all a load of waffle (as someone told us!). We would love to know.

Join us tomorrow for a post about Genetically Modified foods.

To your greatest health!