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Easy Ways to Remember the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15

Easy Ways to Remember the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15

Can’t keep these two straight? Here’s how to tell what fruits and veggies to buy—and when.

Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Charles Bronson ranked as the top three members of The Dirty Dozen when the film premiered in 1967. Since then, thanks to the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) annual report on pesticide levels in fruits and veggies, we’ve come to learn that there’s little star-power in that ranking—at least when it’s applied to the produce we eat.

The EWG makes it clear there are measurably risky pesticide residue levels in our food supply, despite the fact that since 1993 (and before) the government has known how toxic they can be.  And there are serious repercussions: A 2017 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found a woman going through assisted reproductive technologies who eats two or more servings a day of high-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables reduces her chance of a successful pregnancy by 26 percent! And a 2015 study found that men seeking fertility-enhancement treatment who had the highest level of pesticide residue in their blood had the most compromised semen quality.

The importance of the EWG report
The EWG annual report on the foods with the highest pesticide residue and the adjoining report on The Clean 15 helps you know how to select the most healthful foods. Hint: You do not always have to buy organic!

The Dirty Dozen: In descending order they’re: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and sweet bell peppers.

According to the EWG: “More than 98 percent of samples of strawberries, spinach, peaches, nectarines, cherries and apples tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide. A single sample of strawberries showed 20 different pesticides. Spinach samples had, on average, 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight as any other crop.”

An example of how toxic pesticides persist in your food supply: Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists recently re-evaluated the evidence about the effect of organophosphate pesticides on children’s brain and behavior and concluded that the pesticide chlorpyrifos was unsafe, the former head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, cancelled a scheduled chlorpyrifos ban and announced that the agency would not finish its safety assessment for chlorpyrifos until 2022.

The Clean 15: The fruits and veggies least likely to contain pesticide residues included avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbages, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplants, honeydews, kiwis, cantaloupes, cauliflower and broccoli.

Less than one percent of samples of avocados and sweet corn had any detectable pesticides. More than 80 percent of pineapples, papayas, asparagus, onions and cabbages had no pesticide residues.

Your shopping and eating guide

  1. All veggies and fruits (including triple-washed packaged greens) should be well-washed before eating.
  2. Eating fresh fruits and veggies is so healthful that you don't want to keep nix them from your diet, so opt for organic versions of the Dirty Dozen when you can, and certainly if you plan to get pregnant within the year or are pregnant or nursing. Aim to eat seven to nine servings of produce daily.
  3. Indulge in The Clean 15! Cruciferous veggies like broccoli can help you battle cancer and keep your gastrointestinal system healthy. Avocados contain healthy fats and help stabilize blood sugar (stick with ¼ of an avocado per serving). Papayas deliver serious digestive benefits with their enzyme papain and their polyphenols such as beta-carotene help fight off cancer, diabetes and asthma.
  4. Get informed about pesticides on organic veggies. Pesticides used on organic crops include sulfur, lime sulfur, mineral oil, copper-based fungicides, Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) and other live biologicals. These pesticides leave a minor residue on produce, but the United States Department of Agriculture says they’re non-toxic. And while synthetic chemicals like pheromones are organic-allowed, these are substantially different than the toxic synthetic pesticides used in conventional farming.

So dish up that salad, fruit cup and plate of steamed veggies—they are key to a healthier, longer life and a younger RealAge.