Eat your vegetables. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. We’ve been hearing this advice since we were kids, largely because fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins, fiber and antioxidants. However, not everything in fruits and veggies is good for you. Many also contain harmful pesticides that have been linked to cancer, birth defects, hormone imbalances and nerve damage.
Sound scary? Well, here’s the good news: not all fruits and vegetables are heavily sprayed with pesticides. By knowing which contain the highest levels of pesticide residue, you can make more informed choices about what to buy.
The Dirty Dozen & The Clean Fifteen
Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a list of the most heavily contaminated fruits and vegetables, aptly named the “Dirty Dozen.” They also publish a list of the least contaminated produce, which they call the “Clean Fifteen.” This year, the EWG added two additional vegetables to its “dirty” list: summer squash and greens (notably kale and collards). That latter of which have recently been shown to contain higher levels of pesticide residue – particularly if grown in the U.S.
The lists below will help you make more informed choices about when to buy organic produce. A few things to note:
Washing Produce – All of the fruits and vegetables were power washed before being tested. Simply washing produce will not eliminate pesticides. The jury is also still out on whether special fruit and vegetable washes remove any additional pesticide residue. That said, washing your produce is always a good idea as it does remove some levels of contaminants and reduces the likelihood of food-borne illness.
Where Food is Grown – All the fruits and vegetables tested were grown commercially. Locally grown produce, on the other hand, is often less heavily sprayed. The best way to find out is to buy from a local farm stand or market. That way you can talk to the producers and ask about their farming practices. Check out these profiles of farmers markets in Seattle and Portland for tips on where and when to go.
The Dirty Dozen (+ 2)
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Hot Peppers
- Nectarines (imported)
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Kale and Collards (added in 2013)
- Summer Squash (added in 2013)
The Clean 15
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Sweet potatoes
Want to learn more?
For more information, you can also download a quick guide on the EWG website. You can also download their handy app for your smartphone. Remember to keep in mind that eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, even the conventional ones, is always a healthier option than not eating fresh produce at all.