I often get asked about the importance of eating organic. When it comes to produce, often the cost is a barrier. The organic produce can be three times more expensive.
Although I do my best to choose organic produce, there are certain barriers that prevent an exclusively organic diet: even for a nutritionist!
Instead of thinking about the organic label, consider how the food was grown and where it was sourced. Often, small, local farms are using organic practices (no pesticides, no GMOs). Despite adhering to standards, they may not get a costly organic certification. During the seasonal months, spend time at the local farmer’s market talking to your local farmers and growers. Take the time to ask about their growing practices and freshest options.
At grocery stores, I use the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists to choose what produce I will buy organic.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization that strives to protect human health and the environment. They educate the public on genetically modified organisms, pesticides in food, tap water standards, and even the safety of personal care products and cosmetics.
The EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce is updated each year and ranks pesticide contamination on 48 top fruits and vegetables. The guide is based on tested laboratory samples from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.
the CLEAN fifteen and Dirty dozen
The Clean Fifteen are the top 15 foods with the least pesticides, while the Dirty Dozen is a list of the 12 foods with the most pesticides. This list helps guide decisions in the produce aisle: particularly when it comes to cost. I make sure that I exclusively buy organic for items on the lower end of the list; and can be a bit more lenient with the Clean 15.
The 2022 Dirty Dozen
-Strawberries -Spinach -Kale -Nectarines -Apples -Grapes -Peaches -Cherries -Pears –Tomatoes -Celery -Potatoes
The 2022 Clean Fifteen
-Avocado -Sweet Corn -Pineapples -Peas -Onions -Papayas -Eggplants -Asparagus -Kiwis -Cabbages -Cauliflower -Cantaloupes -Broccoli -Mushrooms -Honeydew Melons
You can find the full EWG 2022 Report here.
Note these key findings:
Avocados are the cleanest. Less than 1 percent of samples showed any detectable pesticides.
More than 70 percent of the Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples had no pesticide residues
Other Tips for saving money on produce
Remember that many common foods fall somewhere in the middle. — Still opt for organic as much as possible.
If something is very high in price, consider choosing an alternative fruit or vegetable that is in season. Consider buying organic frozen fruits and vegetables which were harvested during peak season. Shopping seasonally gives you greater variation in your diet, ensures lower prices, and often sources food closer to home.
Don’t be discouraged when conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are a staple in your diet. Fresh produce is better than no produce: just ensure that you are washing everything thoroughly (This will reduce, but not eliminate exposure).
Keep the Clean fifteen / dirty dozen lists handy
Keep a list or screenshot of the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen on your phone for reference while grocery shopping. You can feel good about the choices you make while keeping your grocery shopping on a budget. Use the above images, or write out your own. The more familiar you get with it, the easier shopping for clean produce will be!
Don’t forget about other exposures
The EWG’s Clean Fifteen list is helpful for managing pesticide exposure on our food. However, it’s a reality that we live in a toxic environment where we are exposed to thousands of chemicals on a daily basis. Make an effort to minimize the impact by looking at your personal care products, makeup, cooking tools/utensils, and food storage containers. The more you can control here, the better your body is able to deal with other unavoidable toxins!
As a reminder, our liver is VERY good at handling detoxification so you don’t need to live afraid of your environment. Instead, keep optimizing and making the healthiest choices FOR YOU.