I often hear people debating whether or not to buy organic. Yes, organic is more expensive than conventional (not organic) produce. As a health and nutrition coach, I am here to tell you that it is NOT ALWAYS NECESSARY TO BUY EVERYTHING ORGANIC. When I am grocery shopping, I follow the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists, for what produce I will buy organic.
Have you heard of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists?
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) creates a Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in ProduceTM list- called the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen- and it is updated every year.
The EWG is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to protecting human health, as well as the environment. They research what is in our water system, cosmetics, genetically modified organisms, and the amount of pesticides on and in our foods!
Each year, the EWG updates their Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists by ranking pesticide contamination on 48 of the most popular fruits and vegetables. The lists are updated, each year, based on the results of more than 35,000 produce samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration.
Most years the lists have the same produce; however, in 2019 some produce was removed from the Dirty Dozen list, while new produce was added. For example, strawberries have been at the top of the Dirty Dozen list for four years. While kale was added to the Dirty Dozen list for the first time. In fact, the USDA had not tested kale for almost a decade. And what did the USDA find after a decade…popularity of kale has soared, while the level and number of pesticide residues found on kale has significantly increased- placing kale at #3 on the Dirty Dozen list.
The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen Lists are a resource designed to help consumers reduce their pesticide exposures as much as possible by indicating which produce to buy organic, and which conventional (non-organic) produce are low in pesticide residue.
DIRTY DOZEN OF 2019
(Buy these organic, when possible)
Dirty Dozen Key Findings Summary From the 2019 EWG Report:
· Each of the Dirty Dozen foods tested positive for a number of different pesticide residues and contained higher concentrations of pesticides than other produce.
· More than 90 percent of samples of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines, and kale tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides.
· Multiple samples of kale showed 18 different pesticides.
CLEAN FIFTEEN OF 2019
(These are OK to buy conventional/not organic)
2. Sweet Corn *
4. Sweet peas frozen
6. Papayas *
15. Honeydew melons
*According to the EWG, a small amount of sweet corn, papaya, and summer squash sold in the U.S. is produced from Genetically Engineered seed stock. Although pesticides were low in these three produce, buying organic varieties of these might be a good idea if you want to avoid Genetically Engineered produce.
Clean Fifteen Key Findings Summary From the 2019 EWG Report:
· Avocado and sweet corn were the cleanest produce with less than one percent of the sample having detectable pesticides.
· More than 70 percent of the Clean Fifteen fruits and vegetable samples had no pesticide residues.
· With the exception of cabbage, all other produce on the Clean Fifteen tested positive for less than four pesticides.
· Multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on Clean Fifteen vegetables. Only 6 percent of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples had two or more pesticides.
You can read the full EWG list and report HERE.
You might be asking yourself, “What about the other 21 produce items that fall somewhere in the middle of these two lists?” That’s a great question! And I do not have a completely straight-forward answer for you, but I will do my best to explain.
I tend to lean towards buying these organic, as well. However, it depends on what is in season and what is not. I also consider what has an outer skin that I will be eating versus produce I remove/peel off the outer layer (this is not necessarily super reliable because pesticides and chemicals grow into the entire plant, but it still reduces risk and exposure).
For example, bananas, oranges, winter squash, or mango (just to name a few), I do not always buy organic because I am not eating the outer layer. However, if these items are in season and reasonably priced, I will buy organic.
Produce such as plums, raspberries, blueberries, carrots, green beans, and lettuce, I always buy organic because I am eating the outer most layer.
In the winter, I buy frozen organic berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries) because they are way cheaper than buying fresh, unfrozen.
Overall, just do your best when it comes to choosing the quality of your food! And do what is best for your budget! Eating whole, clean, fresh food (organic or not) is WAY BETTER than eating processed, boxed crap any day!