Jamie Sculley, ND
EWG Updates The Dirty Dozen And Clean 15
Updated: May 7, 2020
When you go to the grocery store do you buy organic? I'll be honest, sometimes I buy organic products and sometimes I don't. If I buy organic it's usually produce, but it depends on what I'm buying and if it fits within my budget. I'm happy to see that organic products are easier to find in my area and are becoming more affordable.
When it comes to buying organic or conventionally grown fruits and vegetables there's a new guide that may help you in making the decision whether to buy organic or not. It's called the Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released an updated version for 2019. Each year they update and release two lists called the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen where they rank fruits and vegetables based on which ones were found to have the most and least pesticides and pesticide residues.
The EWG uses data from testing performed by the USDA and FDA for their lists. Personnel from these organizations test 47 common fruits and vegetables and they look at different parameters including whether pesticides were detectable, how many and how much they found, the average number per sample and the maximum number of pesticides found per sample.
When I compared the lists from 2018 to this year there are a couple differences. The Dirty Dozen used to include sweet bell peppers at #12 and now it's been bumped down to #13 so it's not on the list anymore. The big change this year has been that kale is now on the list at #3. Kale has become the go-to superfood leafy green in the past few years because of its high nutritional value, and according to the EWG's report, many kale samples showed 18 different pesticides. In fact, spinach and kale had more pesticide residues than the other crops on the list.
Dirty Dozen (2019)
You may want to consider buying organic produce for these to reduce pesticide exposure and exposure to GMOs.
#18 Hot peppers - The EWG has brought attention to hot peppers this year because some samples were found to contain insecticides at high enough levels to cause concern. The insecticides in particular are known to be harmful to the human nervous system and are banned from being used on other produce. They recommend either buying organic or cooking them to reduce the amount of pesticide residue.
Clean Fifteen (2019)
These were found to have the lowest amounts of pesticides or pesticide residues so could be purchased as organic or conventional depending on your preference.
Sweet peas (frozen)
The Health Impact of Pesticides
Our primary route of exposure is through the produce we eat and 90% of us have detectable levels in our blood and urine. It's clear that pesticides are in our bodies, but what isn't clear is how it impacts our health. Organic and synthetic pesticides may be associated with health conditions such as infertility, ADHD, autism and cancer. A recent study found that levels in urine can be reduced by 60% in only 6 days of switching to an organic diet so there is something you can do to reduce your body's levels.
Use These Lists As Guidance
As I've been reading articles about the new lists I've noticed the critics, who tend to be involved in the agriculture industries, have said this information discourages us from including healthy fruits and vegetables in our diets. I disagree with that. I think knowledge is power and information like this can help you make an informed decision as to what you buy and eat. The goal of the report, according to the EWG is as follows:
All research agrees on the health benefits of a diet that includes fruits and vegetables, and eating fresh produce – organic or conventional, as budget allows – is essential for health. The Shopper’s Guide is a resource designed to help you reduce your pesticide exposures as much as possible by indicating which produce to buy organic, and which conventional products are low in pesticide residue.
I'm not writing about the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen to scare anyone from eating fruits and vegetables. I would never discourage someone from including these in their diets. Part of my job as a naturopathic doctor is to educate and I'm writing about them to provide information.
Use these lists to make an informed decision when you go to the grocery store. Maybe you choose to buy organic or maybe you don't. Or maybe you consider buying a few of the Dirty Dozen as organic and buying the rest as conventional produce. Only you know your values, health concerns and budget. Either way you decide, I think the important thing is that you're getting healthy fruits and vegetables in your diet and that some is better than none.
Click here If you would like to learn more, read the report or get the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen guides on the EWG's website.
If you would like to see the full ranked list of the 47 different fruits and vegetables that were tested go here.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released their 2019 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce report which includes the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists for produce that contain the most and least pesticides and pesticide residues. A notable change between this year and previous lists is that kale is included on the Dirty Dozen at #3. Pesticides are detectable in almost all of us and may be associated with some health conditions. I recommend using these lists as guidance when you shop to make informed decisions as this is the EWG's goal in creating these lists for consumers.
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Baudry J, Assmann KE, Touvier M, et al. Association of Frequency of Organic Food Consumption With Cancer Risk: Findings From the NutriNet-Santé Prospective Cohort Study. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(12):1597–1606. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.4357
Bouchard, M. F., et al. “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Urinary Metabolites of Organophosphate Pesticides.” Pediatrics, vol. 125, no. 6, 2010, doi:10.1542/peds.2009-3058.
Chiu Y, Williams PL, Gillman MW, et al. Association Between Pesticide Residue Intake From Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables and Pregnancy Outcomes Among Women Undergoing Infertility Treatment With Assisted Reproductive Technology. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(1):17–26. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.5038
Environmental Working Group. “EWG's 2019 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™.” EWG's 2019 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce | Summary, 2019, www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php.
Hyland, Carly, et al. “Organic Diet Intervention Significantly Reduces Urinary Pesticide Levels in U.S. Children and Adults.” Environmental Research, 22 Mar. 2019, www.greenmedinfo.com/article/organic-diet-intervention-significantly-reduces-urinary-pesticide-levels-us-ch.