You want to eat healthily and make the best dietary choices for your wellbeing. But, with so many trendy diets and food labels, it can be hard to know what choice is best. Should you eat gluten-free? Plant-based? Maybe Paleo? Though these are valid questions to consider, there’s another important food factor at play: Organic foods. While strolling the grocery aisles, you’ve probably become well acquainted with that little green “USDA Organic” food sticker. From pasta and oats to chicken and tofu, the USDA Organic sticker can be found on a variety of items, including (and most notably) your produce. Organic foods undoubtedly have a long list of health benefits, but they’re also not cheap. So, if you’ve been reaching for conventional products in an effort to stash some cash, we don’t blame you! That said, there’s a way to be strategic about your shopping — and it’s all thanks to the Dirty Dozen. If you follow this list, you can shop smart and save some money, all while supporting your health.
What is The Dirty Dozen?
Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases a comprehensive “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides” known as the Dirty Dozen. This list contains the top twelve fruits and veggies found to be most pesticide-contaminated (and most at-risk for pesticide contamination) based on the latest research. Essentially, these are the foods you want to buy organic whenever possible.
The EWG formulated the 2022 Dirty Dozen list based on the test results of nearly 45,000 USDA samples of 46 common fruits and veggies. According to the EWG, more than 70% of conventional produce contains one or more potentially harmful pesticides, such as bee-killing neonic insecticides (which have been banned in Europe), due to their harmful effects on both the environment and human health.
What is the Clean 15?
That said, all organic foods aren’t created equal — especially when it comes to produce. While some have a significantly higher rate (the Dirty Dozen), other fruits and veggies are deemed “clean”. Therefore, these foods are safer to purchase in their conventional form than pesticide-rich foods like berries and leafy greens.
As a general rule of thumb, foods on the Clean 15 list contain strong protective shells, peels, coverings, or outer casings (think: banana peels and avocado skins). Essentially, they have a natural protective layer that shields them from harsh pesticide exposure! So, it makes sense that these foods would make the list. According to the EWG, pesticide residue is least likely to remain on these foods by the time you wash and eat them. So if you’re trying to shop mindfully and save some money, these are the foods that are safer to purchase in their non-organic form.
The 2022 Dirty Dozen List
According to the EWG, the crops and produce treated with the highest volume and variety of pesticides are as follows:
#3 Kale, collard & mustard greens
#7 Bell & hot Peppers
The 2022 Dirty Dozen list is nearly identical to the foods found on last year’s list. The only change is that bell peppers and hot peppers moved up the list from #10 to #7, meaning they’re even more likely to contain pesticides and in higher amounts. Another food to be aware of? Spinach. There’s a reason it’s high on the list! Compared to other crops, this conventional leafy green was found to contain 1.8 times more pesticide residue by weight. If you shop organic for any food, let it be your greens!
While the top twelve foods are most at risk, you can find the full list of all 46 tested foods here.
The 2022 Clean 15 List
#2 Sweet corn*
#6 Sweet peas (frozen)
#8 Honeydew melon
#15 Sweet Potatoes
*NOTE: In addition to the above list, it should be noted that a small amount of sweet corn, papaya, and summer squash sold in the U.S. is produced from genetically modified seeds. Whenever possible, it’s advised to buy organic varieties of these crops to avoid genetically modified produce.
Avocado lovers, rejoice! This low-sugar, heart-healthy fruit is at the top of the clean list. As for the rest of the Clean 15 List, it’s very similar to last year’s annual list. But, there are a few new additions that should be welcomed! The 2022 Clean 15 list now contains mango, sweet potato, and watermelon, taking the place of eggplant, broccoli, and cauliflower. Overall, nearly 70% of these fruit and veggie samples had no detectable pesticide residue after proper preparation. So, head to the market and load up on all these good-for-you foods!
While organic shopping is a great way to limit your exposure to pesticides, organic can be expensive. Mindful shopping can help when it comes to choosing which to purchase organic and which you can skip. As you can see, not all foods contain the same amount of pesticides — some foods (like avocados and pineapple) are safer than others, while others (like berries and kale) should be avoided in their conventional form. The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen serve to provide a helpful and comprehensive consumer guide to make shopping easier. The takeaway? Find what works best for you and your lifestyle. If you’re able to buy all organic produce, great! If you shop according to the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, that’s great too.
Keep these lists handy as a reference for shopping made simple!