Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a list of the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” to guide shoppers in reducing their pesticide exposure. At Nourishing World, we believe that organic foods are nearly always superior to those grown with conventional methods (the exception would be food grown by farmers who use organic practices but cannot afford organic certification). However, not everyone can afford to buy a grocery cart full of 100% organic produce. That’s where the 2015 EWG Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists come in handy. The Dirty Dozen list can help guide your grocery purchases so that you can feed your family food with minimal chemical and pesticide residues, all while sticking to your budget. Organic foods by definition cannot be grown with synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, nor can they be genetically modified. We’ve adapted the Dirty Dozen list to not only avoid pesticides, but to also ensure that your produce is non-GMO.
Why Should We Avoid Pesticides? Can’t I Just Wash My Produce Well?
Pesticides are created to kill bugs and pests that may feed on and damage produce. The word to focus on here is “kill.” It would be hard to believe that a chemical created to kill creatures could possibly be healthy for humans to consume, particularly in the large amounts we are exposed to every day. High exposure to pesticides may lead to brain and nervous system problems, toxic colon, hormone and endocrine disruption, birth defects, irritation of skin, eyes, and lungs, Alzheimer’s Disease, ADHD, and cancer. While creating their Dirty Dozen list, EWG found that 64% of the produce they tested contained residue from at least one pesticide, with 12% having residues from five or more different pesticides. It is important to note that all the foods tested were washed before testing, and those that are normally eaten peeled (i.e. bananas) were also peeled prior to testing for pesticides. The foods that made the Dirty Dozen are the commonly purchased types of produce that tested highest for pesticide residues.
Why Are GMOs Bad?
One problem with GMOs is that they are specifically created for the purpose of withstanding herbicides, and therefore they are often sprayed with these toxic chemicals much more heavily than non-GMO crops. But genetically modified foods in and of themselves may also have serious health repercussions. Risks of eating GMO produce include gastrointestinal problems, allergies, gluten intolerance, disorders of the immune system, damage to organs, DNA transfer, infertility, birth defects, autism, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, tumor growth, premature aging, and chronic illnesses.
What Produce Should I Buy Organic?
Fruits and vegetables on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list, which has now expanded to 14 items instead of a dozen, have the highest pesticide load. We have also included produce that may be genetically modified on this list in addition to the Dirty Dozen. You should choose organic for these types of produce:
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Hot Peppers
- Kale/Collard Greens
- Snap Peas
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Yellow Summer Squash (Crookneck Squash)
I Can’t Afford All Organic. What Produce Can I Buy Non Organic?
The items on the EWG’s Clean Fifteen list tend to carry a lower pesticide load than those on the Dirty Dozen. For these types of produce, non organic (conventionally grown) is a reasonable option if you are unable to buy organic:
- Sweet Peas, if frozen
- Sweet Potatoes
You may notice that there are only 13 items on this list. Although papayas and sweet corn also made the EWG Clean Fifteen list, these are both often genetically modified foods. Therefore, we recommend you choose organic papayas and organic corn to avoid consuming GMOs, and we have included these on our “Buy Organic” list above.
It’s hard to remember the Dirty Dozen, especially since the list changes a bit from year to year. Throw in GMO produce and you have a long list of fruits and veggies that may be dangerous to your health! Print out this wallet-sized copy of these lists to keep in your purse or wallet, or save this page to your phone so you can refer back to it easily.