Have you heard of the dirty dozen but
aren’t sure what it is, what’s on the list, or if it even matters? Then this
article is for you!
I was the same way. I had casually
heard that were was a “dirty dozen” list and that avoiding certain fruits and
vegetables was important for pesticide contamination. But I never looked at the
list or did any research for myself, until now! So, how important is it to
avoid the dirty dozen? I’m going to share the list, tell you why they’re bad,
why they might not be so bad, and offer some suggestions. It’s time to wise up!
Key Takeaway: Eat More Fruits &
Before we get started, the moral of
the story is this: Eating more produce in general, whether organic or not, is
what’s most important. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins,
minerals, antioxidants, and other amazing compounds that give us life, energy,
and vitality. I learned this the hard way.
From Junk Food Junkie to Produce
I spent my entire life being
nutrient-deficient, consuming nothing but processed garbage, sugar, and junk
food. It wasn’t until my mid-late twenties that I started having fruits and
vegetables on a regular basis. I remember hanging out at a friend’s house and
seeing him cook a stir fry for dinner that was loaded with chicken and
vegetables. My mind was blown – I was like bro what are you DOING?? Cooking
vegetables for yourself? Inconceivable! The process of making and preparing my
own food was so foreign to me. That moment opened my eyes and inspired me to
change my ways. From there, it was a slow process incorporating vegetables into
my diet consistently, but now they’re a part of daily life. Salads, smoothies,
stir fries make up about 75% of my daily intake of food, and I try to have
vegetables at nearly every meal.
How Could Eating Produce Be Bad?
So, we all know we should be eating
more produce, but one problem with that is nearly 70% of fresh produce sold in
the U.S. contains residues of potentially harmful pesticides, herbicides,
fungicides, and even poisonous gases used in farming (Dirty dozen, 2020). These
chemicals are designed to kill organisms that negatively impact crop
production, so imagine what they’re doing to our bodies! Pesticide consumption
in humans has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, birth defects, and
other immune system disruptions (Aktar, Sengupta & Chowdhury, 2009).
What is the “Dirty Dozen”?
Each year, the Environmental Working
Group releases a list of the “dirtiest” and “cleanest” fruits and vegetables,
based on the levels of contamination from pesticides and herbicides sprayed
Pesticide contamination is analyzed on
47 popular fruits and vegetables based on more than 43,700 samples taken by the
USDA and FDA. Rankings are based not only on the percentage of samples with
pesticides but also on the number of pesticides found on samples. Samples are
peeled and/or rinsed before testing to provide a good indication of consumer’s
exposure levels. It should be noted that the USDA does not test for all
pesticides used in crop production, most notably glyphosate, the most heavily
used pesticide in the U.S. (Dirty dozen, 2020).
With that in mind, let’s go over the dirty dozen and clean 15 lists. Below is the 2021 ranking, in order from most contaminated to least contaminated.
are not considered produce, but if they were, they would be #1 on the dirty
dozen. Out of 670 conventional raisin samples analyzed, 99% tested positive for
at least two pesticides, with the average per sample being 13 pesticides
(Galligan, 2020). We always buy organic and get ours from Costco.
- Apples are
one of the crops that are sometimes genetically modified in U.S. markets. Get
organic for sure (Dirty dozen, 2020).
- Bell &
- Snap Peas
- Sweet Peas
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet corn
is one of the crops that is sometimes genetically modified in U.S. markets. I
would still buy organic whenever possible (Dirty dozen, 2020).
- Papaya is
one of the crops that is predominantly genetically modified in U.S. markets.
Get non-GMO or organic, if possible (Dirty dozen, 2020).
- Sweet peas
- Each year, only a subset gets retested, rather
than redoing every single crop.
- Almost 70% of the Clean Fifteen fruit and
vegetables samples had no pesticide residues.
- Only 7% of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetables
samples had two or more pesticides.
Should We All Avoid the “Dirty Dozen”?
Some argue that the pesticide levels
on conventional produce are insignificant and unharmful. United States
Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Pesticide Data Program Report shows that 99%
of residues found on fruits and vegetables, if present at all, are well below
safety levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency (Riemenschneider,
Also, according to the Alliance for
Food and Farming, a grown man could consume 635 servings of strawberries in one
day without any effect even if the strawberries had the highest pesticide
residue recorded for strawberries by the USDA. A child could consume 309
servings of conventional spinach containing the highest pesticide content
without any effect (Pesticide residue, 2021).
So, who is to be believed? The Environmental
Working Group says pesticides are poison, while farmers and the USDA say
they’re not so bad. I’d like to think that maybe these chemicals and gases
aren’t as harmful as we’re led to believe, but I’m not taking any chances. If
chemical sprays are strong enough to kill small organisms, why should we feel
safe putting them in our bodies? Also, many studies have shown these pesticides
to be detrimental to our gut bacteria, which can affect our health in so many
ways, leading to disease and disfunction.
The Solution: Eat Lots of Fruits &
Vegetables, Whether Organic or Not
Choosing organic whenever possible is
good practice in my opinion. It reduces pesticide exposure and is linked to a
variety of health benefits. If you’re not buying organic, cooking fruits and
vegetables can also help reduce pesticide levels (Dirty dozen, 2020). Regardless
whether you choose conventional or organic produce, simply eating more fruits
and vegetables in general is most important when it comes to improving health.
I would choose to buy conventional produce rather than skip it entirely because
it’s not organic. That said, we buy local and organic at every opportunity.
Don’t Just Stop at Organic Produce
Here are some other items that we
almost always buy organic:
- Meat, Dairy, Eggs: Organic,
pasture-raised, grass fed meat and dairy is the best of the best. Better
treatment of the animals, better nutritional profile, less antibiotics, less
toxic chemicals, and less environmental impact. It’s worth the extra money in
my opinion, not only to support the animals and the environment, but also to
improve the nutritional quality and taste of your food!
- Grains – Oats, wheat, barley, rye, whole
grain. Most of these items are sprayed with glyphosate, the active ingredient
in Round Up. Very toxic to the body.
- Legumes – Beans, Lentils, Peanuts, Peas,
Soybeans, Chickpeas, etc. Same thing
with grains, also sprayed with Round Up, so they test high in glyphosate.
But, Organic is So Expensive!
Yes, organic can be expensive, but
it’s not that bad when you shop around. Look for sales, buy in season, get
produce from your local farmer’s markets or even grow your own! Also, buy
frozen, which is often less expensive than fresh. Many of the organic fruits
and veggies we buy are from Costco at very reasonable prices!
At the end of the day, it’s worth the
extra money in my opinion to put quality nutrients in your body, because you’re
going to be paying for it one way or the other. You’re either paying for it out
of your pocket book, or you’re paying for it in lost productivity, decreased
energy, and whatever else these toxic chemicals may be doing to your health and
For additional resources, check out EWG.org
To stay on top of all things Wise Eats, subscribe to my free newsletter at WiseChoiceNation.com
Aktar, M., Sengupta, D., & Chowdhury, A. (2009, March). Impact
of pesticides use in agriculture: Their benefits and hazards. National
Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2984095/
Dirty dozen: EWG’s 2020 shopper’s
guide to pesticides in produce. (2020). Environmental Working Group.
Retrieved from https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php
Galligan, T. (2020, March 25). Raisins: No. 1 on the dirty dozen
list? Environmental Working Group. Retrieved from
Pesticide Residue Calculator. (2021, January 9). Safe fruits
and veggies. Retrieved fromhttps://www.safefruitsandveggies.com/pesticide-residue-calculator/
Riemenschneider, P. (2020, March 25). Dirty Dozen even more tone deaf than usual. Produce Blue Book. Retrieved from https://www.producebluebook.com/2020/03/25/dirty-dozen-even-more-tone-deaf-than-usual/