The Dirty Dozen™: Which Fruits and Veggies Are Smothered in Pesticides?

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Since 1993, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has been helping consumers become more savvy shoppers, conducting research, sharing information, and doling out tips all in an effort to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. While the EWG conducts research on ingredients, contaminants, and potentially toxic compounds that may be unknowingly found in water, cosmetics, cleaning supplies, and more, they are perhaps best known for annually publishing The Dirty Dozen, which is a list of the most pesticide-laden produce.

Since 2004, the EWG has ranked the most popular fruits and vegetables according to pesticide residues, so you know which ones you most likely should buy organic (those on The Dirty Dozen list). Just as importantly, they put together a list of the cleanest produce (known as the Clean Fifteen), so you may save some of your hard-earned cash by choosing conventionally-grown options.

So, let’s get right to it. Here’s the Dirty Dozen for 2018:

  • 12 Fruits Smothered in Pesticides

  • 1. Strawberries

  • 2. Spinach

  • 3. Nectarines

  • 4. Apples

  • 5. Grapes

  • 6. Peaches

  • 7. Cherries

  • 8. Pears

  • 9. Tomatoes

  • 10. Celery

  • 11. Potatoes

  • 12. Sweet Bell Peppers

The Dirty Dozen: 12 Fruits & Veggies Covered in Pesticides

1) Strawberries: Sadly, America’s favorite berry (though technically not a berry) is number one on the list again as they’re contaminated with at least 10 pesticide residues (with one sample containing a jaw-dropping 22 different pesticides). You’ll definitely want to choose organic.

2) Spinach: A mainstay of morning smoothies everywhere, spinach is again second on the list as 97% of samples contain pesticide residues, including “relatively high concentrations of permethrin, a neurotoxic insecticide.”

3) Nectarines: Third on the list again this year, 94% of the samples of this sweet fruit tested contained at least 2 pesticides with one sample containing up to 15. Whoa…

4) Apples: Another of America’s favorite fruits, conventionally-grown apples are laden with chemicals—90% show pesticide residues with 80% testing positive for diphenylamine, a pesticide that has been banned in Europe as well as other countries across the globe.

5) Grapes: More than 96% of conventionally-grown grapes in the U.S. are found to contain pesticide residues, with 5 being the average.

6) Peaches: You’re going to want to seek out organic versions of this juicy delight. When the EWG looked at conventionally-grown samples, 99% revealed detectable levels of pesticides, with an average of four varieties.

7) Cherries: One pesticide you’ll want to avoid is iprodione, which is banned in Europe as it may cause cancer. Yet it’s found in 30% of U.S. conventionally-grown cherry samples., which contain, on average, five different pesticides.

8) Pears: Conventionally-grown pears contain relatively high levels of both insecticides and fungicides, with more than half tested shown to contain five or more pesticides. This is another one that you’ll want to shop for organically-grown.

9) Tomatoes: If you can’t grow your own, you may want to head to the local farmers’ market for organic tomatoes. Not only will they likely be richer in color and flavor, you’ll also avoid the four or more pesticides typically found on conventionally-grown tomatoes. (One sample contained 15 different pesticides!)

10) Celery: Over 95% of celery samples tested positive for pesticides, with one sample containing 13 different pesticides.

11) Potatoes: While far from the empty calorie evil many people avoid, you’ll want to seek out organic potatoes. After all, “conventionally grown potatoes had more pesticide residues by weight than any other crop.” Yikes!

12) Sweet Bell Peppers: Yet another delicious vegetable, almost 90% of the conventionally-grown samples tested contained pesticide residues. Sure, they may contain fewer residues than other foods on this list, but pesticides can still be toxic to human health. And if you eat lots of produce (which is vital for overall health), you may be getting a lot more exposure than you bargained for.

You may not always be able to find (or afford) organic versions of the Dirty Dozen, but by seeking them out, you may drastically reduce your overall exposure. So, now that you know what conventionally-grown produce to avoid, you may be wondering if there are any that are less likely to contain high levels of toxic residue. The answer is yes! Let’s dive into the Clean Fifteen.

The Clean Fifteen

1) Avocados: We can already hear the cheering for avocados being #1 on this list. With less than 1% testing positive for pesticides and only 1 pesticide found on 360 samples that were tested, you’re likely safe with both conventionally-grown and organic versions.

2) Sweet Corn: Last year, sweet corn held the honor of the #1 spot yet was supplanted by avocados this year. Still, less than 2% of sweet corn contained detectable pesticide residues. Unfortunately, there’s now Roundup-Ready genetically engineered (GE) sweet corn seeds available, and a small amount is being grown. So, if you want to be sure to avoid GE/GMO crops, you’ll still want to go with organic corn.

3) Pineapple: Another clean-growing plant, 90% of the samples tested contained no detectable levels of pesticide residues.

4) Cabbage: 86% of the samples of this healthy cruciferous vegetable was found to contain NO detectable levels of pesticide, and just 2 of over 700 samples contained more than one pesticide.

5) Onions: Another vegetable that’s low-risk with less than 10% testing positive for pesticide residues.

6) Frozen Sweet Peas: Around 80% of the samples tested showed no detectable levels of pesticides, and conventionally-grown frozen sweet peas contained no more than two pesticides, if any at all.

7) Papayas: 80% of the papaya samples tested contained no detectable levels of pesticides, making this another clean fruit option.

8) Asparagus: Go ahead and step over to the conventionally-grown produce and pick up a bunch of asparagus for your spring salad. 90% of those sampled had no residues of pesticides.

9) Mangos: How about a more exotic fruit? Mangoes are an excellent option with 78% of the samples testing negative for residues.

10) Eggplants: Also known as “aubergine,” eggplants are one of the few purple foods to add to our spectrum of nutrition. And in this case, 75% of the conventionally-grown samples showed zero pesticide residues.

11) Honeydew Melons: While not the “cleanest,” still around half of the melons tested were free from residues of pesticides.

12) Kiwis: Considering that the skin of this fuzzy fruit is one of the most nutritious, it’s fortunate that 65% of the samples tested had 0 detectable residues.

13) Cantaloupes: Perhaps due to their thick skins, another melon finds its way on to the list of clean produce, with over 60% of cantaloupes tested showing no detectable levels of pesticides.

14) Cauliflower: We can hear the rejoice as cauliflower is a staple in many healthy diet plans. When it comes to conventionally-grown cauliflower, only about half of the samples tested contained detectable levels of pesticide residues, and none contained more than three.

15) Broccoli: Last on the Clean Fifteen list, broccoli was found with no detectable residues in 70% of the samples tested, and just 1 in 10 contained more than 1 pesticide.

We all know why eating a diet loaded with a wide variety of vegetables and fruits is good for us. Unfortunately, when it comes to conventionally-grown produce, some are covered with potentially toxic pesticides that may cause us harm. With these two lists above thanks to the EWG, you’ll be better armed at your local farmers’ market and grocery store, so you can make the cleanest choices for you and your family.

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