As a result of the diminishment of the nutrient profiles in foods due to modern farming practices, we need to eat more fruits and vegetables than ever. You may remember a prior article in which I shared research that to get the same level of nutrients from two peaches eaten back in the 1950′s, today you’d have to eat 53!

We are all trying to make our money in this tough economy stretch as far as it can, so it’s good to know that there is some produce that you can buy conventionally grown; being able to purchase it at your regular store or when it’s on sale means you can really save some money. Other fruits and vegetables, however, absolutely should be bought organic, as it’s worth every penny of the investment in your health to avoid the toxic pesticides they contain.

Every year, the Environmental Working Group, or EWG, releases a list of the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables known as The Dirty Dozen. They also provide a list of the Clean 15 that you can feel safe about buying conventionally grown. The list changes every year and this years’ list contains some surprises vis-à-vis last year’s list. (Some dirty produce got cleaned up and some went the other way.)

Everything not on one of these two lists is a use-your-best-judgment call: buy organic if and when you can, especially if it’s something you don’t peel. The more important avoiding pesticides is to you, the more items on the “in- between list” (meaning anything not found on either of the two lists that follows below), you’ll probably want to look for organic.

If it’s not a big priority for you at the moment vs. other health considerations, if you don’t have growing children, if you cannot afford it or it’s not a regular purchase, it’s ok to consume the conventional produce on the “in-between list” periodically as long as you wash it well or don’t eat the skin.

To the extent that you can, buy local and support your small farms whenever possible especially if buying conventional; the further food travels, the more it will be sprayed to ensure it makes the journey without spoiling and the less time it’s allowed to ripen and reach nutritional maturity.

The Clean 15 (These can be bought conventionally grown if you’re watching your expenses.)

  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Sweet Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Mushroom
  • Onion
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Sweet Peas – Frozen
  • Sweet Potatoes

It’s important to note that most genetically modified produce such as corn and soy is used to make packaged goods and doesn’t end up in the produce aisle. Some produce will be labeled with a sticker that begins with the number 9, which indicates it’s genetically modified and should always be avoided, but it’s not a requirement and so most produce will not.

According to the EWG, small amounts of GMO Produce such as zucchini, papaya and sweet corn do make their way onto the shelves. If avoiding genetically modified foods is a priority to you, these should also be bought organic, even though papaya and corn make the “clean” list as far as pesticides go. (While we love an occasional sweet corn on the cob, because corn is so pervasive in foods these days, we limit it to a couple times a season, really enjoy it when we do, and always buy it organic.)

The Dirty Dozen (ALWAYS buy organic)

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Hot peppers
  • Nectarines – Imported
  • Peaches
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet Bell Peppers


  • Kale and Collard Greens
  • Summer Squash such as Yellow and Zucchini

The first thing you’ll notice about The Dirty Dozen is that many of these are the fruits and vegetables your kids or grandkids eat most. The impact of the pesticides will be even greater upon their developing bodies and because they eat from this group regularly, it’s even more important to invest in organic options if there are kids involved. (And keep in mind, this means products made from these fruits as well such as apple or grape juice, and apple sauce, etc.)

More and more stores are adding organic produce; these are the fruits and veggies to look for wherever you shop and make it a rule to invest in organic versions. Trader Joe’s is pretty good at stocking these if you have access to one nearby, but even there, it’s hit or miss. There are many times of the year I cannot get organic apples for my kids’ lunches and so we have to switch to something else until they come in because I will not buy conventional.

If you cannot find fresh organic versions of the Dirty Dozen, look for frozen organic strawberries, spinach or peppers. If you can’t get organic peaches or nectarines, try plums or another fruit on the clean or in-between list and wash it really well with fruit and veggie wash if you’ll be eating the peel. (Conventional or organic, clean, dirty or in-between, always wash your produce with a fruit and veggie wash and never eat any fruits or vegetables until you have!)

Also try visiting local farms or farmers markets and talking to the farmers. Many smaller farms follow organic farming practices but cannot afford the time and expense of applying for organic certification. Again, even if not certified organic, local produce will have more nutrients and is a better choice than heavily sprayed conventional produce that travels from far away.

Finally, last year, the Dirty Dozen list had some additions that didn’t meet the full criteria but were commonly found to have toxic pesticide contamination. This year, two new vegetables made their “plus” list: domestically grown summer squash such as yellow crookneck squash and zucchini, and leafy greens such as kale and collards.

These vegetables show pesticide residues of organochloride pesticides that are toxic to the nervous system and as a result have been phased out of agriculture. They make the list because residues still linger in farm fields and have been found on conventional produce sold in stores, so these should also be purchased as organic.

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art


Every year, the Environmental Working Group tests fruits and vegetables to determine which are the most — and least — contaminated with pesticides. If you’ve been a subscriber from the beginning, I have shared the previous results with you.

But the list can and does change over time and as we find ourselves in the height of summer here in New England, with fresh produce all around, I want to share the 2012 results to help you make better fruit and vegetable choices.

Let’s start with the good news! The following made the Clean 15 list, which means they were the cleanest and least pesticide-laden of the crops. This list is important because if you are watching your pennies and trying to determine when you can afford to buy — or whether you should splurge on — organic produce, these items can typically be purchased conventionally grown and still be ok to eat.

While local is always better since the nutrient levels will be higher because they are fresher from farm to table, you can still pick these up in any market and not worry about spending the extra money on organic.

The Clean 15 includes:

  1. Onions
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocado
  5. Cabbage
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangoes
  9. Eggplant
  10. Kiwi
  11. Domestic Cantaloupe
  12. Sweet potatoes
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Watermelon
  15. Mushrooms

One important note, however. Corn in this country is very often genetically modified, and not usually labeled as such in stores. So if you are concerned about consuming GMOs as I am, then buying organic corn is essential.

Now for the worst offenders. These are the most pesticide-ridden fruits and vegetables on the market, and some of them contain as many as 57 different pesticide residues. When you are looking to buy any of these for your family, this is when you should definitely consider splurging on organic versions.

The Dirty Dozen

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Sweet Bell Peppers
  4. Peaches
  5. Strawberries
  6. Imported Nectarines
  7. Grapes
  8. Spinach
  9. Lettuce
  10. Cucumbers
  11. Domestic Blueberries
  12. Potatoes

It is important to note that many of these are staples in growing kids’ diets, so reducing the amount of pesticide exposure by buying organic is an investment in future health well worth making. Thankfully, Trader Joe’s keeps us stocked on the organic apples, strawberries, potatoes and grapes my kids rely on. Hopefully, you can find organic versions nearby in Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or at your local market.

If not, ask your local farmers how they raise their produce. Many small farms follow organic practices but have not gone through time consuming (and expensive for a small farm) practice of becoming certified as organic. Ask the farmers at your local farmer’s market about their practices: farmers following organic practices will be excited to tell you about it.

In 2012, the Dirty Dozen also included a special category, citing two crops that didn’t make the top twelve offenders but posed other health concerns. These vegetables, green beans and leafy greens such as kale and collard greens, were commonly found to be contaminated with a highly toxic organophosphate insecticide that has been shown to be toxic to the nervous system.

While the insecticide is not used frequently any more, it has not been banned, so it is still allowed on food crops and green beans and leafy greens were often found to contain this pesticide. For this reason, these items should always be purchased organic. And always wash your produce, whether it is conventional or organic. Soaking in a citrus veggie wash or a bath of baking soda and a little vinegar will help remove residues that remain on the skin.

Keep in mind that products made from these crops will also contain the pesticide residues, so if you buy any pre-made product containing that fruit or vegetable, you will want to buy organic as well. This is especially true for the products kids so enjoy such as juices and jellies.

Lastly, if you enjoy grapes or grape products, there is an added concern: grape growers in the US use a fluoride-based spray and grape juices, jellies and yes, even California wines, were found to have excessive fluoride contaminant levels. Fluoride may be fine on top of your teeth but is not meant to be ingested (just read the warning on young kids’ toothpaste boxes).

Because many of us already consume excessive amounts through our water supply if you don’t have a water filter on all your faucets, this is something we really need to try to avoid. So look for organic versions of these products whenever possible. (European wine makers do not use this fluoride-based spray and so do not have the same concern).

If you want to see the list see the Environmental Working Group website. They also offer a
downloadable version for your phone, or if you make a donation to
help support their work, they will send you a pocked guide you can keep in your
Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art

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