It’s my favorite time of year! Not just because the weather is finally warming up but because it is time for the Environmental Working Group’s annual release of the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 fruits and vegetables. As we turn the corner, (finally!) toward Spring, it’s a perfect time to talk about choosing the fruits and vegetables and the tradeoffs between your health and your finances.

As a result of the diminished 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 as some dirty produce does get cleaned up and some clean produce begins to show signs of pesticides.

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.)

Sweet Corn
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 8, which indicates it’s genetically modified and should always be avoided, but it’s not a requirement and so most produce will not have such clear markings.

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 even though it’s on the clean list.)

The Dirty Dozen (ALWAYS buy organic)

Sweet Bell Peppers
Nectarines – Imported
Cherry Tomatoes
Snap Peas – Imported

Kale and Collard Greens
Hot peppers

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. These should be purchased organic as well.)

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 Joes 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 vegetables made their “plus” list: hot peppers 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.

Last year, domestically grown summer squash such as yellow crookneck squash and zucchini made the plus list too. But this year they have removed it from the highest level of danger list, finding pesticide levels to have improved.

As produce season gets under way, enjoy the 9-13 servings per days of fruits and vegetables your body requires for optimal health, but invest in the best form you can of the dirty dozen and you can save some pennies on the rest!

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 and a free copy of Inger’s bestselling ebook at

Photo Source: courtesy of SOMMAI / Free Digital Photos


Each year, almost a billion pounds—or nearly three pounds per person—of pesticides are sprayed across the U.S. Before herbicides and pesticides were introduced 57 years ago, 37% of our crops were being lost to pest damage. Today, despite the pervasiveness of pesticide use, pests are destroying MORE than 37% of our crops.

And it’s not just in the U.S. We import heavily sprayed foods from countries that use chemicals the United States banned long ago. While pesticides have not had any significant effect on crop loss, they have definitely had an effect on our health. I think pesticide exposure levels in our food, water and environment are cause for concern today, but I am even more concerned about the effect they will have on future generations if we don’t start making some changes in the way we grow—and buy—our foods.

In the last article, I looked at which fruits and vegetables are the most pesticide-laden and how you can make the best choices when buying fresh fruits and vegetables. Today, I’m going to discuss some of the effects these choices have on our health and look at other issues worth considering, including whether to buy food from abroad.

The Effect of Pesticides on our Health

Pesticides are toxins that can affect our nervous systems and damage our reproductive systems. (Not surprisingly, chemicals designed to prevent pests from reproducing can affect our ability to reproduce as well.) Some pesticides are more harmful to us than others and the extent of their effect on our health depends on which pesticides we are exposed to, in what amounts and at what frequency. Some, like organophosphates and carbamates, affect our nervous systems. Others disrupt our hormones and affect the endocrine system. Some are known carcinogens, while others irritate skin and eyes.

Pesticide exposure can result in both chronic and acute health concerns. Some of the chronic health concerns include shortened attention span, memory disorders and reduced coordination, early onset Parkinson’s disease, reproductive problems, hormonal disruptions and imbalance, birth defects, depression and cancer. (As far back as four decades ago, Miami University did a study on terminal cancer patients and found that in the random selection tested, they all had exceptionally high levels of pesticide residues in their liver, brain and fatty tissues.)

Some of the acute conditions pesticide exposure can trigger include blurred vision, headaches, eye problems, skin conditions, seizures, diarrhea, nausea and wheezing. Mild to moderate pesticide poisoning can even present symptoms similar to asthma, bronchitis and gastroenteritis, especially in children.

Children are particularly susceptible to these problems because of their developing body systems. CNN reported recently on new research that children across the U.S. who eat typical kid-friendly foods like frozen blueberries, fresh strawberries and celery had twice the likelihood of receiving an ADHD diagnosis. (Previous studies focused primarily on communities of farm workers and found that exposure to pesticides led to behavioral and cognitive problems in children.)

Researchers analyzed the urine of over 1,000 children and found that the kids with above average levels of one common pesticide byproduct, malathion, had double the chance of receiving an ADHD diagnosis. Since pesticides are designed to have toxic effects on the nervous systems in order to kill the pests, researchers concluded it is not a stretch to imagine that these chemicals can have an effect on the nervous systems and brain chemicals of children exposed to them.

We are all born with some pesticide exposure in our systems passed to us in utero. We add to that through our daily food and water choices and our environmental exposure. Some of us are more susceptible because of our genetic makeup or higher in utero exposure levels, but all of us can manage our pesticide exposure by making better choices.

I think our pesticide exposure through food, water and environment is so pervasive today that we should all try to minimize our exposure. If you have kids, are pregnant, have a compromised immune system or make lifestyle choices that you know place greater burden on your liver, it is even more important to pay attention to your food choices and avoid “the dirty dozen” most heavily pesticide-ridden produce and buy organic instead.

Buying Food From Abroad

In generations past, we ate along with the seasons, varying our diet depending on what grew at that time of year. Today, we eat much more limited diets, as many of us tend to eat from the same food groups repeatedly with little deviation. As a result, we eat our favorite fruits and vegetables year-round.

This practice not only restricts our diets and limits our exposure to the many other fruits and vegetables available each season, but it has also resulted in big business for international produce exports. The importation of fruits and vegetables raises a number of concerns about the carbon footprint of our foods, the use of pesticides illegal in the U.S. that are still being used in foreign countries and the nutritional value of food that is picked before it is fully ripe so that it can make the long journey to us before it spoils.

Though the U.S. has banned the use of some known carcinogenic chemicals in our food production process, several developing countries routinely use such chemicals in farming.

Just one example of this (and sadly there are many more) is the pesticide DBCP or Dibromochloropropane. In the late 1970s, workers at a pesticide plant in California discovered that DBCP exposure had rendered them sterile. Some companies stopped production while an investigation was undertaken, but some did not. (One company, Amvac, told its stockholders that they would continue to sell it even though it had suspected carcinogenic and mutagenic properties because a vacuum existed in the marketplace during the investigation and they hoped to take advantage of it.) After a two-year investigation, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that DBCP does cause sterility and it was banned for use in the United States.

However, just because a chemical is banned in the U.S. does not mean there are restrictions abroad. In this case, DBCP is sold to Coast Rica, Honduras and Ecuador for use on banana plantations and then that produce is sent back to the U.S. for consumption. (Dole recently made the news with a lawsuit from banana plantation workers related to sterility from DBCP; it’s still being used in banana production today.)

One recent test indicated that bananas from Central and South America revealed 45 pesticides that are “allowable” by FDA standards as well as 25 prohibited pesticides and 37 additional poisons that the FDA does not test for. The FDA rarely refuses entry to produce or seizes any shipments, so there is little reason not to spray heavily. (One Mexican farmer stated that because Americans want blemish free produce and won’t eat items with insect marks, they spray four times as much pesticide on any produce destined for the U.S. than for any other location.)

If the FDA does test a produce sample, they remove a small section but send the rest to market while the tests are being run. So if they do in fact find excessive pesticide levels or other concerns like unknown poisons, there is little consequence because the American public has already consumed the produce by the time it is discovered.

In addition, the nutritional value of foods that travel long distances is often compromised. In order to make it to market prior to spoiling, fruits and vegetables are picked early, before they are ripe, and then sprayed to protect them from ripening too soon while still in transit. Food that is picked early before it fully ripens is not fully developed and its enzyme profile is different than that found in a mature, ripe version.

For example, unripe fruit has an insoluble form of pectin known as protopectin. But as it ripens, enzymes make the pectin soluble. In the case of fruit or vegetables from far away, they may never reach their ripe and mature nutritional state because they are sprayed to delay ripening and we consume them prior to that ever occurring or because the chemicals sprayed to prevent them from ripening on their journey effectively prevent them from ever reaching full mature development.

Buying organic reduces our pesticide exposure in foods we eat, but it also reduces the pesticide exposure in our environment. Pesticides remain in the soil—often for many years—affecting future crops, sometimes even generations later. In addition, spraying results in airborne chemicals that drift over homes, gardens and schools creating health concerns for many people—especially children and those living in rural farm areas.

There are so many great reasons to opt for organic produce, but it is also important to support our local farms and farming communities, as there are greenhouse gases emitted from airfreight to consider.  I’ve heard the argument that buying air freighted out-of-season produce is the equivalent to driving a Hummer.

So how do you decide between an organic apple from New Zealand or a conventional pesticide-laden product from a neighboring farm?

Local versus Organic

This is not an easy question to answer, and one you will have to decide for yourself based on your commitment to local agriculture, your concern about carbon footprints and your tolerance for agrichemicals in your food. I try to support local farming to the extent possible and will choose local produce, even if it’s not organic, whenever possible. (Especially if I can talk to the farmer directly at the farm stand or the farmer’s market and ask about how the produce is grown.)

The one exception to this is “the dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables discussed in the prior article, in which case the harms of the heavy pesticides outweigh any other considerations for me as I have developing children. So when buying those fruits and vegetables (and a few others toward the high end of the list that we eat regularly) organic is always my first priority.

Of course, when possible, getting something local AND organic is always ideal and I try to seek that. But in today’s world where time and money are always a consideration, that is not always possible. In the next newsletter, I’m going to look at how to make the best choices when you can’t get fresh produce and you need to buy frozen or canned versions as substitutes. (You’d be surprised to know how much restaurant food, even at nice restaurants, comes from a can!)


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: Wikipedia


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


Getting the right info on buying the best fruits and vegetables is as important as ever, so I want to answer some of the questions people ask me regularly about making healthy fruit and vegetable choices, such as: when is it worth splurging on organic if my budget is tight? Is frozen better than canned? Do I need to wash everything, even if it has a skin? And, how do I decide between local and organic?

I’m going to begin by telling you which fruits and vegetables are the safest, and which are the most pesticide-ridden, so that you can start making better choices immediately.

The Dirty Dozen

Several years ago, Consumer Reports magazine assessed the pesticide residue levels in fruits and vegetables based on data from the USDA, with foods prepared as they would be in a typical home.

The score was a composite that was based on how many samples contained pesticides, the average amount and the toxicity of the particular pesticides that were found. In this report, a result over 100 indicated cause for concern. Peaches domestically grown in North America came in at 4,848. Winter squash (domestically grown) came in at 1,706. Domestic apples landed at 550. Domestic pears, spinach, grapes, celery, green beans, grapes from Chile and spinach from Mexico all fell in the 250-450 range.

With anything over 100 being cause for concern, this study illustrates why people are so worried about pesticides in our produce supply and why it is worth spending more for organic.

Organic foods will rarely be completely pesticide-free; they still have some trace levels of pesticides due to contaminants that remain in the soil or are airborne. However, studies have shown that people who consume conventional fruits and vegetables have pesticide residues in their urine and those who consume organic fruits and vegetables do not.

In today’s economy, money can be tight and we are all looking to stretch wherever we can; but spending a little more to buy organic can be a wise investment in your health. If you cannot afford to buy everything organic, but you still want to make some healthier food choices, here are the 12 fruits and vegetables that are worth splurging for organic. According to the Environmental Working Group, these fruits and vegetables contain between 47-67 pesticides per serving (which cannot be washed away).

In order (from worst to somewhat better, keeping in mind all 12 of these should be avoided to the extent possible if they are not organic), they are:

  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Domestic blueberries
  • Nectarines
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Spinach, kale and collard greens
  • Cherries
  • Potatoes
  • Imported Grapes
  • Lettuce

If your five+ servings a day of fruits and vegetables are coming primarily from these foods, you are taking in high levels of pesticides that are linked to autoimmune disorders, cancer and ADHD. (And I suspect many other conditions that studies have not yet revealed because of lack of funding for such research.)

We can handle a little bit of pesticides from time to time, but if you are eating other foods that contain toxins or consuming a lot of fructose or drinking a lot of alcohol, your liver is already busier than it should be and it isn’t fully available to detoxify your chemical load.

If you eat from this group regularly, over time you will add significantly to your toxic load; you need to consider not only the effect of these foods, but also the effect of these foods in conjunction with the other things you are eating and doing (or not doing). Children, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems need to be especially vigilant. It’s estimated you can avoid as much as 80% of your pesticide exposure by choosing organic forms of these fruits and vegetables.

The Clean 15

It may not be that helpful to assess the rest of the fruits and vegetables because your primary focus should be on avoiding non-organic forms of the produce above. But it often surprises people to know some of the cleanest, least pesticide-ridden produce.

In order, from best to not as good, but still pretty clean, they are:

  • Onions
  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Mango
  • Sweet peas
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Sweet onions

While we might like to eat only organic fruits and vegetables because they are healthier and often they taste better, if you are watching your pennies, there is no reason to splurge on organic forms of these.

It’s important to note that pesticide residue levels are measured after produce is washed and peeled. So no matter what you are buying, even the clean 15, you should clean your produce with a good veggie wash. You can find citrus-based veggie washes in your grocery produce aisle: water is not usually enough. I wash everything that comes into my house, even if it says it has already been washed. And peeling soft skinned fruits will help reduce pesticide levels as well.

The fruits and vegetables that do not appear on either list are just that: not the best, but not the worst. You’ll want to weigh the conventional versus organic options in light of what else you eat and your financial considerations. If you opt to buy conventional instead of organic, always look to buy produce that is as local as possible. If not at a farmer’s market, your local supermarket often has some produce from regional farms and that is always a better choice than food from far away.

Dissecting Food Labels

In addition to the above lists, you also need to be a wise consumer and read produce signs and labels carefully when purchasing fruits and vegetables. Food stores such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have both conventional and organic options, just as your local market may, so you have to be careful about what you are buying: conventional produce from Whole Foods or your local natural foods store is no better than what’s in your local market, and it may be much more expensive.

Some large chain supermarkets (such as Hannaford here in New England) have a wide selection of organic produce that is often cheaper than specialty stores like Whole Foods. Regardless of where you buy, it’s worth reading food labels, as they will tell you the truth.

Conventional produce (grown with herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and fertilizers) will have a sticker that has a four-digit number that begins with a 4. For example, a conventional grown banana might read 4011. Because 4 digit codes have now been used up, you will begin to see stickers will four digit codes beginning with the number 3 that are also conventionally grown.

Organic produce has a five-digit code that starts with the number 9. For example, organically grown bananas might read 94011.

Genetically engineered produce (to be avoided) will have a five-digit product code that starts with the number 8, so a genetically engineered banana would read 84011. (Much produce today has been genetically modified, which won’t be apparent, but if it was specifically genetically engineered, it has to carry a label starting with 8.)

So anytime you are looking to buy organic, just check to make sure the sticker starts with a 9. Supermarket produce sections can be misleading, so double check to make sure you are buying what you really want.


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

© 2012 Inger Pols, Inc. Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha