The Clean 15 vs. The Dirty 12

If you’re like most people in this country, you assume that the fruits and veggies you buy at the grocery are doing your body good.

And, for the most part, they are. However, it’s important to remember that when we bite into that apple, we’re not just eating the fruit. We’re eating the chemical residue that remains on its skin.

Ewww, right?

If you’re thinking that you can just wash it off, think again. Because here is what we know – USDA researchers detect pesticide residues on a lot of the fruits and vegetables they test, which is not surprising given that conventional agriculture continues to use toxic pesticides. But what is surprising is that the samples tested by the USDA, all 35,000+ of them, are from fruits and vegetables that have been thoroughly washed and peeled, when applicable.

I share this because – like many – I”m concerned about the health of myself and my family and aim to purchase only the cleanest fruits and vegetables.

So if you’re wondering what those are, here is a great resource compiled by EWG on the ranking of the “dirtiest” vs. cleanest of 48 popular fruits and vegetables. They rank pesticide contamination annually and this is the latest version.

If you’re like me, you looked at this list and came away concerned. After all, some of my favorite fruits and vegetables are on the ‘Dirty Dozen’ list. Worse, many on this list happen to be staples that I feed my children. Does this mean we can’t enjoy these anymore without worrying about pesticides?


This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat fruits and veggies on the Dirty Dozen list.

The EWG publically still states that the health benefits of eating these foods outweigh the risks of ingesting pesticide residue. It does mean, however, that you should make sure to wash these fruits and veggies thoroughly, as the pesticide residue would be even greater if unwashed.

As well, if you can swing it, consider buying organic for these fruits and vegetables specifically. Food residues are the primary source of exposure, and several studies have shown that these exposures drop when people adopt an all-organic diet.

I know it can be expensive and sometimes difficult to find organic options. But if you are in a position to do so, it might be worth it for the ‘dirty dozen’ in particular. If this is not feasible for financial or other reasons, you may consider increasing your intake of the clean 15 over the dirty dozen in order to reduce pesticide exposure.

Ok, and then here is the bigger question. What do pesticides do to you anyhow? I mean, how bad can ingestion of a little pesticide residue be?

Let’s be clear on one thing.

The science on the health effects of pesticides is incomplete.

If you’re not a science junkie, just trust me. Scientific studies are generally extremely expensive, time-consuming and subject to numerous limitations. This is particularly true when we are talking about issues related to food, which tend to be complex due to our different biology, environment, and history.

So we can’t say for certain how ingestion of pesticide residue through fruits and vegetables influences our health. What we do know is that some studies have shown that children with high exposures to the neurotoxic compounds used on certain fruits and vegetables had increased rates of impaired intelligence and neurological problems. As well, children born to women with high levels of pesticide exposure were more likely than children born to women with low levels of exposure to have impairment in memory, reasoning, and IQ.

But again, the science is still emerging and there might be other reasons for these findings.

However, we can all agree on one thing – pesticides were developed to kill living organisms. So reducing our ingestion of these certainly doesn’t hurt our health and might very well help it. So copy this list, take it with you and be armed with the information to keep you and your family healthy.



Is this list helpful? I hope if nothing else that it gives you peace of mind in buying fruits and vegetables so you know which ones to buy organic versus not.

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