Food & Drink Health Nutrition Uncategorized

Know thy produce: the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen

When it comes to buying produce, “all organic everything” is not the only way to get your daily servings of fruits and vegetablesFind out how you can put produce on the table while keeping money in your pocket with these tips from the Environmental Working Group.

It’s 2020. We’re now drinking iced oat milk lattes from biodegradable straws, making “pulled pork” sandwiches out of jackfruit and whipping blends of CBD oil and apoptogenic herbs into our morning coffee. We’re trying some new trends (like eating more plant-forward dishes) and ditching others (like consuming anything called “glitter food”). Most importantly, we’re keeping our common sense. As the nutrition landscape ebbs and flows, we know that one thing remains true: we really ought to be eating our fruits and vegetables. (In fact, the Center for Disease Control reported in 2018 that only 12.2 percent of adults meet the meet the daily fruit intake recommendation and just 9.3 percent meet the vegetable recommendation.1) 

Enough research has confirmed the benefits of fruit and vegetables for us to know that we should be eating them daily. 
Regular consumption of produce has been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseasehelp individuals maintain their bodyweight, increase nutrient absorption, decrease the risk of certain cancers, so on and so forth. And, research shows that among a list of factors that motivate consumption of healthy foods, consumers value the absence of contaminants in their food more than price and convenience. This means that people who can swing an entirely organic shopping list likely will do so, as they’d rather ensure their food is safe to eat than save moneyLike one Instagram influencer said, “What we spend on groceries now is what we avoid in medical costs later.”   

But then there’s me: A (kind of) broke grad student. 
When comparing the bunch of organic asparagus to its conventional counterpartI can’t help but do a quick mental math equation to find out how many T rides I can buy with the extra cash if I opt for the latter. And when those shopping trips compound over time, a few bucks here and there really does make a difference. These decisions seem minuscule, but they always leave me standing in the produce section holding two bunches of greens, weighing my options. That is, until I learned about the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list, of course.    

What ithe name of produce is the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen? 
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, which publishes free and accessible consumer guides to just about everything. In addition to testing our tap water, reporting on the best clean beauty products and sharing what’s really in our sunscreen, the EWG provides information about the pesticides in our food.   

First and foremost, the EWG reveals that not all foods are treated [with pesticides] equally. In general, foods with thick, inedible skins or peels (think avocados and bananas) have minuscule exposure to pesticides, while others (like my weekly apples and loose leaf kale) show higher concentrations and varieties of pesticides compared to other produce.  

To educate and empower consumers, the EWG created The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen: two annual lists that reveal the top 12 foods with the highest amount of pesticides that consumers should buy organic (The Dirty Dozen) and the top 15 foods with the lowest concentrations of traceable pesticides that are safe to buy conventional (The Clean Fifteen).  

The most recent list has lowered my grocery bill by revealing that the conventional versions of some of my favorite foods (avocados, broccoli and cauliflower) are safe to eat. And, even better, I feel good about spending the extra money on my weekly staples when I know that their organic price is actually justified. 

The Dirty Dozen 
Buy these organic, if you can! 

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

Key findings from the EWG: Kale and spinach samples had, on average, 1.1 to 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop. (Yikes!) 

The Clean Fifteen 
Save money by buying the conventional version of these. 

  1. Avocados 
  2. Sweet corn 
  3. Pineapples 
  4. Frozen sweet peas 
  5. Onions 
  6. Papayas 
  7. Eggplants 
  8. Asparagus 
  9. Kiwis 
  10. Cabbages 
  11. Cauliflower 
  12. Cantaloupes 
  13. Broccoli 
  14. Mushrooms 
  15. Honeydew melons 

Key findings from the EWG: “Avocados and sweet corn are the cleanest. Less than 1% of samples showed any detectable pesticides. More than 70% of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples had no pesticide residues.  

In an ideal world, I’d be grazing off of my own land, eating salads from my garden and fruit from the trees in my backyard. But, until then, knowing how to decide between organic and conventional asparagus at my local Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Stop and Shop feels just as good. To stay updated on the 2020 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list, visit www.ewg.com.  


Ali McGowanis an aspiring Registered Dietitian and a second-year graduate student in the Nutrition Interventions, Communication, and Behavior Change Program at The Friedman School. A fitness enthusiast and frequent obstacle course racer, Ali comes to Tufts with a professional background in public relations, social media, and content marketing, and has assisted with the communications for Fortune-500 companies, including CVS and Hasbro, Inc.

The Friedman Sprout is a monthly student run newspaper that aims to serve the student population at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, prospective students, and alumni. Our mission is to report on newsworthy information that affects the Friedman community including nutrition research, food policy, internship and volunteer opportunities, as well as school events. Our editorial slant is that of sustainability in food and nutrition.

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