Summer is here, which means there’s no better time to find fresh fruits and vegetables—whether it’s in your local grocery store, farmers’ market, or, if you’re a gardener like me, in your own backyard.
But sadly, not all of that produce is good for you.
I’m always telling you to add fruits and vegetables to your diet because of their healthy nutritional content. But a lot of the produce sold in supermarkets is doused in pesticides and other toxic chemicals. Which is why I’m committed to updating you on the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists of fresh fruits and vegetables each year.
These lists are compiled by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG). And they’re based on more than 40,000 samples of 47 different fruits and vegetables, tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to determine levels of pesticide contamination.1
Fortunately, you can avoid contamination risk by eating organic—which, by law, is prohibited from being grown with chemical pesticides or fertilizers (or genetically modified [GMO] foods, for that matter).
Of course, it can be expensive to eat organic. So if you have to make a choice, try to always buy organic versions of the produce that falls on the Dirty Dozen list. Because you can feel pretty safe buying conventional versions of the EWG’s “Clean Fifteen” foods.
Just be sure to always wash ALL of your produce—organic or not. Because there’s still a concern that pesticides can drift from conventional crops grown next to organic crops. It’s even important to rinse produce after you’ve removed the inedible skins, shells, or other coverings to wash away any remaining residue as well.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the biggest surprise on this year’s list.
The “surprising” addition to this year’s Dirty Dozen
The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen don’t change much from year to year. But a notable exception this year is that kale—a supposed “super food”—has been added to the Dirty Dozen…and in the third-highest position.
The last time kale appeared on the list was a decade ago in 2009, when it ranked eighth. But popularity seems to have spoiled this “super food”—yet another reason it’s really not so super.
In fact, the EWG reports that kale and spinach had 1.1 to 1.8 times higher pesticide residues than other produce. And 92 percent of kale samples tested positive for two or more pesticides. Shockingly, some kale samples contained up to 18 different pesticides.
As if that weren’t bad enough, EWG revealed that nearly 60 percent of kale is contaminated with Dacthal—a pesticide the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified as a possible carcinogen back in 1995. Dacthal is associated with liver and thyroid tumors, and also considered harmful to the kidneys and lungs.
But that’s not the only reason why I think you should avoid kale…
Why I don’t think kale is super
I don’t like to use the word “super” to describe any food, because the only thing that’s really “super” is a balanced diet that contains a variety of healthy foods.
And kale is essentially no different nutritionally from other vegetables in the Brassica family (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage), which were all originally cultivated from the ancient wild mustard plant in Eurasia.
To me, the only difference is that it’s difficult to prepare, it tastes bad, and it’s hard to digest.
But for some reason, the marketing miracle workers decided to give kale a PR makeover. They took a plant that’s difficult to sell (and that’s really only good for composting) and encouraged millions of consumers to pay more than they should in a quest to “eat healthy.”
Kale has never been on my list of top vegetables. There are many other tastier and nutritious green, leafy vegetables to eat. And now that kale’s a member of the Dirty Dozen, why bother?
Save your money, and your digestive system, by eating kale’s Clean Fifteen counterparts—cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. You’ll get all of the nutrition without any of the unappetizing hype.
2019’s Dirty Dozen
(In order of most contaminated)
2019’s Clean Fifteen
(In order of least contaminated)
- Sweet corn
- Frozen sweet peas
- Honeydew melons