The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released their 2013 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, and listed the Dirty Dozen– top fruits and veggies you should buy organic, and Clean Fifteen– those that are safer to buy conventional.
Avoiding the most contaminated produce will allow you to lower your pesticide intake dramatically! EWG analyzed the pesticide residue data from the USDA to come up with the lists, and shockingly, the data used was from produce washed and peeled- of course not washing your produce properly would mean your pesticide rates are even higher!
I’m not surprised apples top the list of the most contaminated because unless I am eating a well washed organic apple, I get an instant allergic reaction from the pesticides on the apple- my mouth starts burning, which is why I always buy organic apples (unless I’m indulging on unidentified apple pie).
For me and my family, I choose organic when possible, but within budget. I try to buy organic for The Dirty Dozen, and cost-effective ones like carrots. But I am ok with eating conventional when I’m eating out, or if they’re on the Clean 15. For instance, I eat avocados a lot, and don’t buy those organic, because I can’t find great organic ones, and they’re really expensive. And I eat so many of them that I’m getting plenty of nutrients.
Here is the Dirty Dozen + Clean Fifteen infographic (for the full list of the top 51 fruits and vegetables and their ranking, scroll down):
Though there has been much debate about whether organic produce is really more nutritious than conventionally grown, the newest studies are finding that organic does indeed mean more nutrient-dense foods. Which means you’d have to eat more conventional produce to get the same amount of nutrients.
A new Brazilian study showed that organically grown tomatoes have 55% higher concentrations of vitamin C and 140% plant phenols (anti-oxidant compounds like lycopene that protect against heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other chronic illnesses) than conventionally grown tomatoes. This is despite the fact that the organic tomatoes were 40 percent smaller than conventional ones. Bigger isn’t always better!
Whether or not organic is more nutritious in every case, the main issue are pesticides. Pesticides are meant to be toxic and kill insects, plants and pests. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that pesticides are dangerous to your health and can cause:
- brain and nervous system toxicity
- hormone disruption
- skin, eye and lung irritation
The benefits of organic food, in terms of pesticide exposure, are greatest for pregnant women, young children and people with chronic health problems. Studies that looked at blood pesticide levels of pregnant women and then followed their children for several years, showed that women with the highest pesticide levels during pregnancy gave birth to children who later tested 4 to 7 percent lower on I.Q. tests compared with their elementary school peers.
Another important reason to buy organic is promoting environmental and social sustainability. Buying organic supports environmentally friendly farming practices that minimize soil erosion, safeguard workers and protect water quality and wildlife.
But don’t forget to talk to your farmers at local farmers markets, because a lot of them are using organic farming methods, but have not obtained the USDA organic certification, for cost, size, or age reasons.
Full List of produce ranked in order of pesticide contamination:
(starting with the most contaminated)
- Sweet bell peppers
- Nectarines- imported
- Cherry tomatoes
- Hot peppers
- Blueberries- domestic
- Snap peas- imported
- Kale/collard greens
- Nectarines- domestic
- Blueberries- imported
- Green beans
- Summer squash
- Winter squash
- Green onions
- Snap peas- domestic
- Honeydew melon
- Sweet potatoes
- Sweet peas frozen
- Sweet corn