Here’s the inside scoop on the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen”

Knowing THIS can make all the difference for your diet and health!

Around this time each year, I share with you the “dirtiest” and “cleanest” fruits and vegetables for your health.

And I always reference the Environmental Working Group (EWG)’s annual “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists.

These lists reveal the types of produce that are most and least likely to be poisoned with pesticides—as shown in scientific tests.

But let me be clear: That doesn’t mean certain types of produce are “good” or “bad” for you.

Whether you choose an apple or an artichoke, a carrot or a cantaloupe, you’re going to get plenty of health benefits. (That’s why I always encourage you to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables as part of a balanced diet.)

Sadly, however, not all of this produce is grown in the healthiest way—and that’s where the “clean” and “dirty” designations come in…

We know that a significant amount of conventionally grown produce is doused in toxic, chemical pesticides.

And numerous studies link these chemicals to cancer, metabolic issues like obesity and Type II diabetes, nervous-system problems, reproductive issues, and other serious health concerns.

This month, just in time for the summer harvest, I’d like to tell you more about what’s behind the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists…and where the information comes from.

Then, I’ll share my simple but effective tips to ensure your fruits and vegetables are as healthy and toxin-free as possible.

What’s in the name?

Just as we should always consider our food sources, we should also carefully consider the sources of information about foods.

According to the EWG website, the group has issued its Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen reports every year since 2004 (and I’ve been publishing them since Insiders’ Cures debuted in 2012).

The reports are based on information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA)’s Pesticide Data Program.

USDA scientists gather conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. They wash, scrub, and peel them as consumers would. Then, the scientists test the produce for pesticide residues.

The EWG uses that data to rank the 46 fruits and vegetables that are the most and least contaminated with pesticides. But because the USDA doesn’t test all 46 types of produce every year, EWG uses 10 years’ worth of testing data to compare and compose its annual list.

For example, strawberries haven’t been tested by the USDA since 2016, according to the EWG—even though these berries are consistently the most contaminated with pesticides when they’re not grown organically. That’s because, unlike other fruits, the seeds of the strawberry are on the surface—which creates pores that trap pesticides and other contaminants inside.

Typically, the testing results remain fairly consistent for various fruits and vegetables year to year. But the overall amounts of pesticides found on produce is increasing.

In fact, the EWG reports that this year, more than 70 percent of non-organic produce grown in the United States contains pesticide residues—even after the produce is washed!1

(Which is why I recommend washing your fruits and vegetables to remove dirt and other contaminants…but not as a way to protect you from toxins).

And the data gets even more shocking when you look at pesticide levels in specific types of fruits and vegetables…

Hundreds of different pesticides in a single piece of produce

The EWG reports that many samples of the fruits and vegetables tested by the USDA contained multiple pesticides, including fungicides and insecticides. More specifically…

  • The highest levels of multiple pesticides—from an astounding 103 different chemicals—were found in collards, kale, and mustard greens.
  • Hot peppers and bell peppers weren’t far behind, at 101 different pesticides per sample.
  • Spinach had nearly twice as many pesticides by weight compared to any other crop tested.
  • More than 90 percent of the strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines, and grapes tested were found to have residues of at least two different kinds of pesticides.

Of course, higher amounts of pesticides are extremely unhealthy. But being exposed to multiple different pesticides, even at lower levels, is dangerous.

This type of pesticide exposure is called “super additive”—meaning each pesticide has more of a health impact when combined with other pesticides, compared to acting in isolation.

This super-additive effect can also be called “toxic soup.” And I have personal experience with it as an expert witness in forensic pathology and toxicology…

Beware of brewing a toxic soup

During my courtroom testimonies, I’ve learned that the pesticide industry rejects the “toxic soup” argument of harm caused by exposure to multiple chemicals. Instead, the lawyers and judges typically insist on limiting evidence to health impacts of individual pesticides, with exposures considered only one-at-a-time.

But in the real world, if workers on a large-scale industrial farm or golf course are exposed to one pesticide, they’re exposed to at least a dozen different ones (including herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides).

Meaning they’re exposed to the super-additive effects of “toxic soups” in their working environments. And that can result in even more serious health concerns.

Similarly, consumers may be exposed to multiple pesticides by simply preparing food.

In fact, you could literally make a toxic soup by combining supposedly healthy vegetables doused in pesticides!

How can you protect yourself and your family?

So, how can you avoid exposure to pesticides—and help eliminate the likelihood of making “toxic soup?”

The answer is NOT to eat fewer fruits and vegetables—which are rich in the antioxidants, phytonutrients, natural fibers, minerals, and vitamins needed for optimal health.

You’d think everyone would know this. But a CNN report said that a pesticide industry representative, CropLife America, actually claimed the Dirty Dozen list scares people away from eating any produce.2

In response, Alexis Temkin, a toxicologist at the EWG, said the study (done by another industry group, the Alliance for Food and Farming), “actually shows that just over half of people surveyed said the Dirty Dozen list made them more likely to buy fruits and vegetables.”

Temkin added: “Only about one in six said our report would make them less likely to buy produce.”

Hmm. Seems like the American public isn’t as easily influenced by misinformation as the pesticide industry thinks they are…

Instead, more people are increasingly turning to organic produce, which by U.S. law can’t be grown with chemical pesticides, insecticides, or fertilizers (or genetically modified seeds, for that matter, which require the use of pesticides).

(In an upcoming issue of Insiders’ Cures, I’ll be digging into more details about the cultivation of organic foods. I’ll also share some good news about the growing number of local, organic farms. So, stay tuned!)

And that’s a great solution! But I also understand that not everyone can afford to eat organic produce all of the time.

That leads me to the Clean Fifteen list—and other effective tips for guarding against pesticides…

Some conventional produce gets a green light

According to the EWG, nearly 70 percent of the Clean Fifteen foods on this year’s list have no detectable pesticide residues. And less than 5 percent have residues of two or more pesticides.

That’s mainly because many of the fruits and vegetables on the list have hard skins or husks that protect the part you actually eat from the pesticides sprayed during the growing process.

That includes avocados, which top this year’s Clean Fifteen list. (See the full list in the sidebar below.)

This once-neglected fruit (called an “alligator pear” and other unappealing names) is a great source of nutrients, including healthy essential fats. It also makes a great summer dip called guacamole—or topping to huevos rancheros (see page 2).

Of course, you could achieve the same pesticide-free effects by removing the skins of produce on the Dirty Dozen list (for example, nectarines).

But the health benefits of some fruits and vegetables (such as apples and tomatoes) are actually enhanced by eating the skin or peels, where nutrients are more concentrated.

In those cases, your best bet is to choose organic versions.

But you can also help guard against pesticides with two other simple steps:

Buy local. When you shop at your local farmers’ market and buy directly from the grower, you know what you’re getting, where it’s coming from, and who is growing it.

Plus, many times, the food may be organically grown but not bear the USDA certified organic seal. That’s because food grown and sold for consumption locally (within 50 miles) is exempt from federal regulations that favor big food and industrialized agriculture.

Buy in season. Prices are lower when fruits and vegetables are in season and more plentiful—even when they’re certified organic. Buying in bulk and then freezing, canning, or pickling organic fruits and vegetables preserves the nutrients—and saves you money.

Whichever option you choose, it’s a good idea to keep copies of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists handy. In these days of factory farming, they’re essential protection against toxic chemicals…and a simple way to help maintain your health.

And remember, research shows you only need to eat three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit per day for optimal health benefits. That works out to only about two and a half cups of healthy, toxin-free produce daily!

The 2022 “Dirty Dozen” List
ranked by most contaminated with pesticides

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard, and mustard greens
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Bell and hot peppers
  8. Cherries
  9. Peaches
  10. Pears
  11. Celery
  12. Tomatoes

The 2022 “Clean Fifteen” List
ranked by least contaminated with pesticides

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn (non-GMO)
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya (non-GMO)
  6. Sweet peas (frozen)
  7. Asparagus
  8. Honeydew melon
  9. Kiwi
  10. Cabbage
  11. Mushrooms
  12. Cantaloupe
  13. Mangoes
  14. Watermelon
  15. Sweet potatoes