The Dirty Dozen List: Foods You Should Buy Organic

These days, more and more people are claiming you should only buy organic produce. In a world overrun with chronic disease, people are naturally panicked about the potential consequences of coming into contact with toxic substances.

But is it worth listening to the organic debate? Organic fruits and vegetables can certainly impact your grocery bill, and when you’re already on a super tight budget, you start to question, “So is it really such a big deal?”

Yes, and no.

It’s true — pesticides truly appear to be a high-risk substance. And, agriculture continues to use huge quantities of those pesticides. And, studies continue to show that pesticides are associated with greater health risks.1

But it’s not all bad news for those who hope to keep their grocery bills low. There are some foods that contain much higher levels of pesticide exposure than others, so you can get selective with your shopping – rather than going 100 percent organic.

Testing The Food That You Eat

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit organization of scientists, researchers, and policymakers that studies pesticides and chemicals, and their impact on the environment. According to the EWG, almost 70 percent of produce tested is contaminated with pesticide residue.

Dirty Dozen | Probiotic America

As for the pesticides themselves, there’s more than one bad guy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found almost 180 different types of pesticides on the food that it tested.2

But you just have to wash your fruits and veggies, right?

In USDA tests, pesticides remained on most produce after they were washed with high power water sprays – and even after they were peeled.3

So, back in 2004, the Environmental Working Group created a list of what it calls “The Dirty Dozen” – twelve foods that have tested positive for many different pesticide residues. The EWG says these foods contain much higher concentrations of pesticides than any other produce.

These are the foods that you should definitely buy organic. In fact, doing so may reduce the amount of toxins you consume by as much as 80 percent.4

What Makes The EWG Dirty Dozen List?

The EWG updates it’s Dirty Dozen List annually. The group’s current list recommends that you buy organic versions of the following fruits and vegetables5:

    • Strawberries
    • Spinach
    • Nectarines
    • Apples
    • PeachesDirty Dozen | Probiotic America
    • Pears
    • Cherries
    • Grapes
    • Celery
    • Tomatoes
    • Sweet bell peppers
    • Potatoes

Why Do Some Products Absorb More Pesticides?

Some fruits and veggies have much thicker, impermeable skins – which gives them better protection against pesticides. These include pineapple, cantaloupe, or mangoes.

Berries, on the other hand, barely stand a chance. Add in the fact that some pesticides are absorbed into the fruit – to protect the juicy inside from pests – and you’ve got a potentially toxic food.6

Sounds bleak, right? Well, there is some good news. While the “Dirty Dozen” gets a lot of attention, the EWG also compiles an annual “Clean 15” list.

So …

What Is the “Clean 15”?

The EWG’s annual “Clean 15” list offers up fifteen types of produce that are the least likely to be contaminated by pesticides. The current “Clean 15 List” includes7:

    • Sweet Corn*
    • Avocados
    • Pineapples
    • Cabbage
    • Onions
    • Sweet peas frozen
    • Papayas*
    • AsparagusDirty Dozen | Probiotic America
    • Mangos
    • Eggplant
    • Honeydew Melon
    • Kiwi
    • Cantaloupe
    • Cauliflower
    • Grapefruit


    *Sweet corn and papaya are marked here because some sold in the U.S. are produced from genetically modified seeds. If that’s a concern to you, consider avoiding them, or buying them non-GMO/organic.

    Protecting Your Health Through Knowledge

    If you’ve got serious concerns about your health when it comes to eating foods that may be laden with pesticides and pesticide residue, then you must arm yourself with knowledge.

    The best thing you can do is to take control of your own body and health – keep abreast of all the latest developments in nutrition and know which foods are on the “Dirty Dozen” list (and which foods are of lesser concern).

    To read more about the EWG Dirty Dozen list, the Clean 15, and other tips, it really is worth checking out the EWG website at


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