What Are the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen List of Foods?

What Are the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen List of Foods?

It’s the new year, a time when many resolve to start the year by eating right. People promise that they’ll eat healthier on their way to becoming a better version of themselves as the year unfolds.

And when we think about eating healthier foods, vegetables and fruits quickly come to mind. They are rich in vitamins and minerals, help make skin glow, boost immunity, and strengthen bones and body. You wouldn’t think there’s anything wrong with making these food choices, right?

But did you know that much of the produce you purchase may contain traces of harmful pesticides? So instead of doing your body a world of good, you may in fact be consuming some synthetic chemicals as well.

Why do farmers use pesticides?

If pesticides on our food can be harmful to our health, then why do farmers continue to use them in agriculture? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, pesticides refer to “any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest.” The EPA also stipulates that pesticides are used as a plant regulator, desiccant, or defoliant. So if farmers didn’t use pesticides, “more than half of our crops would be lost to pests and diseases.” Pesticides protect the crops and enable our farmers to produce quality foods and sell them to consumers at affordable prices.

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The dangers of pesticides

However, the harms of pesticides to people’s health and our environment are inarguable. These toxic substances used to kill pests may also find their way into the food we eat. And since each of us has different tolerance levels when exposed to pesticides, their ill effects on humans can range from causing respiratory tract irritation, allergies, nausea, headache, seizures, or death. Pesticides have also been linked to Parkinson’s disease, ADHD, diabetes, and cancer. The use of pesticides also has a negative impact on our environment as it contaminates the soil, water, and air. Their indiscriminate use can also kill good soil microorganisms which affects soil fertility. If the soil fertility diminishes, then it will also affect the quantity and quality of the crops.

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EWG’s guide to pesticides in produce

Each year, the U.S. Environmental Working Group releases an updated report regarding the pesticide contamination found on the 47 most popular fruits and vegetables being sold in the market. They call the list of the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables, the “Dirty Dozen” while those with the least amount of pesticides based on their study make their way to the “Clean 15” list.

Here is the list of Clean 15 foods:

1. Avocados
2. Sweet Corn
3. Pineapple
4. Onions
5. Papaya
6. Frozen sweet peas
7. Eggplants
8. Asparagus
9. Cauliflower
10. Cantaloupes
11. Broccoli
12. Mushrooms
13. Cabbage
14. Honeydew melon
15. Kiwi

And here’s the Dirty Dozen list:

1. Strawberries
2. Spinach
3. Kale
4. Nectarines
5. Apples
6. Grapes
7. Peaches
8. Cherries
9. Pears
10. Tomatoes
11. Celery
12. Potatoes

Copyright © Environmental Working Group. Reproduced with permission.

According to EWG’s study, the crops on the Dirty Dozen list still have potentially harmful pesticides on them even after you have already washed, peeled, or scrubbed them during food preparation. Their rankings are based on tests looking at six measures of pesticide contamination on food samples. They are:

  • the percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides
  • the percentage of samples with two or more detectable pesticides
  • the average number of pesticides found on a single sample
  • the average amount of pesticides found, measured in parts per million
  • the maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample;
  • and the total number of pesticides found on the crop.”

Their most recent study showed that 90% of sample strawberries still had residues of two or more pesticides on them even after completing the usual steps for food cleaning and preparation. Kale, which is known to be rich in vitamins and antioxidants, had a significant amount of the herbicide DCPA (dimethyl tetrachloroterephthalate) on the samples, a chemical linked to cancer in humans.

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For those alarmed by these results, EWG recommends buying the organic variety of the crops found in the Dirty Dozen list. Meanwhile, they stipulate it is relatively safe to purchase the non-organic kind of crops that are listed in the Clean 15.

Switch to organic

Making the switch to organic is the best way to prevent exposure to harmful synthetic chemicals sprayed on food. In 2018, the value of the global organic food and beverages market was approximately $165.5 billion US dollars. This is expected to reach $680 billion by 2027. There is a growing demand for organic food as producers use fewer pesticides and the farming method is more environment-friendly as it produces less pollution and organic farmers focus on soil building practices such as crop rotation and the use of green mulch.


However, the downside of switching to organic is lower crop yields, which make it more expensive as compared to non-organic. The price makes it difficult for all shoppers to make the switch. It means spending a lot more on food when there are still more affordable options in the market, albeit non-organic and conventionally sprayed food.

Yes to eating healthy

Many people are now more conscious of what they eat. There are many benefits to healthy eating. It is important to maintain a proper and balanced diet to reduce risks of diseases, improve psychological well-being, and extend life expectancy. Aside from keeping our body functioning properly and in great shape, it also gives us a positive disposition and outlook in life that contribute to overall health and wellness.

But did you know that while there are clean and dirty foods, experts advise not to view food as good or bad? This kind of thinking encourages unhealthy eating behaviors. All types of food, whether organic or conventionally grown, can be included in a healthy diet as long as they are taken in moderation and appropriate proportions. Importance is given to eating a balanced diet obtained by eating the right amount of whole foods alongside physical exercise. A healthy lifestyle is not just about what we eat but also how much we eat and what we do physically.

And if we are what we eat, then let our food choices guide the way to optimal health and well-being. Here’s to a healthier 2021!

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