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Fruits and Vegetables

Organic vs. Conventional Foods
“The Dirty Dozen” vs. “The Clean 15”

When to purchase Organic produce vs. when Conventional produce is ok.

The soil used in organic farming is much healthier than conventional soil. Therefore, organic crops have significantly higher levels of polyphenols than conventional produce. Polyphenols are plant compounds loaded with antioxidants. They impart numerous health benefits, including preventing and combating various types of cancer, preventing heart disease and inhibiting the oxidative process linked to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. Antioxidants act like police officers that arrest the bad guys (free radicals) and keep them from wreaking havoc on your insides. You get all this just from eating organic produce!

If buying all organic produce is not possible, I recommend you prioritize which foods to buy organic using this list from the Environmental Working Group of the “Dirty Dozen” (conventional produce with the highest pesticide residuals) and the “Clean 15” (conventional produce with the lowest pesticide residuals). After 43,000 tests run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FDA, these are the 12 fruits and vegetables that tested highest in levels of pesticides. (See guide at

The Dirty Dozen – Produce You Definitely Want to Buy Organic
1. Celery
2. Peaches
3. Strawberries
4. Apples
5. Blueberries
6. Nectarines
7. Bell Peppers
8. Spinach
9. Kale
10. Cherries
11. Potatoes
12. Grapes (Imported)

Clean 15 – Naturally lower in pesticides, so they are safer to consume
1. Onions
2. Avocado
3. Sweet Corn (Frozen)
4. Pineapples
5. Mango
6. Asparagus
7. Sweet Peas (Frozen)
8. Kiwi
9. Cabbage
10. Eggplant
11. Cantaloupe
12. Watermelon
13. Grapefruit
14. Sweet Potato
15. Honeydew

If cost or selection precludes you from buying organically, you can feel safe buying conventionally-grown foods on the “Clean 15” list, because even when not organically grown, they have consistently tested negative for pesticides, year after year. For some produce, there isn’t much advantage to using pesticides, because either the bugs don’t like them or their tough outer skins make them too much of a challenge for the bugs to eat. Additional produce in this clean group, but not listed above, are bananas, garlic and melon.

Consumers can reduce their pesticide exposure up to 80 percent by avoiding the most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating only the cleanest. Because fetuses and young children are the most susceptible to the toxic effects of pesticides, this guide is particularly important for expectant mothers and parents of young children. It’s imperative that they know which conventionally-grown fruits or vegetables might expose their children to toxic pesticides and which will not.

According to recent studies, pesticide exposure is linked to cancer, reproductive dysfunction, diabetes, autism, asthma, birth defects, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease and more. When researchers compared the levels of pesticide breakdown products in the bodies of children who eat organic compared to conventional diets, they found that children who eat mostly organic foods carry fewer pesticides in their bodies.

For families who are expecting to have children, the parents should begin eating organic foods even before the mother-to-be is pregnant. Why wait until your baby is already growing inside you to start eating well? Many times a mother is pregnant for weeks or even months without even knowing it. Young children need to have a strong immune system to fight off diseases, and for the first 40 weeks of their lives they are completely dependent upon the mother to make good choices and ensure a healthy start.

Are there any other tips to help lower your ingestion of these poisons known as pesticides? Rinsing reduces, but does not eliminate pesticides. Peeling helps, but some pesticides do still enter the pulp of the produce. Plus, valuable nutrients are often lost when the skin is peeled. Your best approach is to rinse all produce and buy organic when possible. When it’s not possible to buy organic, focus on the “Clean 15” list and avoid the “Dirty Dozen.”

Written by Lindsey Crouch, organic personal chef and lifestyle coach..

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