The Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 Fruits and Veggies

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

One of my favorite nonprofit consumer watchdog organizations, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), just released its 2020 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™—an important resource that you should be using to eat healthier and reduce your disease risk.

I’ll share the key updates in a minute. But first, if you’re not familiar with the EWG, I highly recommend taking some time to browse its website and the consumer guides put together by the scientists, policy experts, and lawyers who work there. They review government data, legal documents, and scientific studies, as well as conduct their own laboratory testing, to expose threats to public health and the environment. This particular annual report—the Pesticides in Produce guide—is based on their analysis of testing data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

2020 Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 Food Lists

For the past several years, EWG has done a fantastic job helping consumers get smarter about the amount of pesticide residue in fruits and vegetables through its Dirty DozenTM and Clean FifteenTM food lists. These lists rank fruits and vegetables based on the amount of pesticide residue they contain after being washed and peeled, as consumers typically prepare them.

Here are this year’s results:

Dirty DozenTM Foods (Most Contaminated)Clean FifteenTM Foods (Least Contaminated)
1.      Strawberries1.      Avocados
2.      Spinach2.     Sweet Corn
3.      Kale3.     Pineapples
4.      Nectarines4.    Onions
5.      Apples5.     Papayas
6.     Grapes6.     Sweet Peas (frozen)
7.      Peaches7.     Eggplants
8.     Cherries8.     Asparagus
9.     Pears9.     Cauliflower
10.  Tomatoes10.   Cantaloupes
11.  Celery11.   Broccoli
12.  Potatoes12.  Mushrooms
* Hot Peppers also noted for insecticide content13.   Cabbages
14.  Honeydew Melons
15.   Kiwis

I was particularly happy to see that four of my top healing foods – avocados, onions, asparagus, cauliflower, and broccoli – made the clean list. However, kale, spinach and tomatoes came up on the dirty side of the chart, making it much more important to buy organic if those are part of your meal planning (which I hope they are!).

Some other highlights of note from this year’s report:

  • Almost 70 percent of the conventional produce samples contained at least one pesticide.
  • More than 90 percent of the spinach, kale, strawberry, nectarine, cherries and apple samples tested positive for at least two pesticide residues.
  • Many kale samples showed 18 different residual pesticides
  • Kale and spinach, by weight, contain more pesticides than other fruit or veggie tested
  • Less than 2 percent of avocado and sweet corn tested contained a pesticide.

Some foods not on the Dirty DozenTM list—hot peppers —were called out in EWG’s Dirty Dozen PLUSTM category.  Pesticides that are toxic to the brain (and which are banned from use on some crops) were found on these foods, and EWG recommends that you buy organic if you eat a lot of them. Alternatively, the group suggests cooking them, as pesticide levels are usually lower in cooked food.

What was really shocking about this year’s report was the dirtiest fruit or veggie of them all… raisins! That’s right – a go-to children’s snack that’s thought to be so healthy! Were raisins fresh produce, they would have topped the Dirty Dozen list. EWG noted: “Almost every sample of non-organic raisins tested by the USDA – 99 percent – had residues of at least two pesticides, as did 91 percent of organic raisins.” The takeaway? Eat fresh, prunes or fresh organic grapes instead of raisins.

You can read the report’s summary for more information about methodology and conclusions, and get the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists here.

What the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen Foods Mean for Your Health

It’s simple: Use the EWG’s Dirty DozenTM and Clean FifteenTM lists to prioritize which fruits and veggies you absolutely must buy organic.

Generally, the best diet is a wholly organic one, and this is particularly true when it comes to produce. Organic fruits and vegetables—fruit, especially—not only have a lower pesticide load, but studies confirm they are higher in natural antioxidants, the compounds linked to reduced risk of many common diseases.

However, I also recognize that not everyone has access to organic foods or the cash to pay for them. If this is true for you, then use these lists to guide you on where to put the extra grocery dollars you do have, or on which foods you’d be best off avoiding altogether. Strawberry and apple lovers, for example, are wise to spend a little more for organic brands. But if avocados are your weakness, you’ll be fine with conventionally grown products.

Pesticide Residue: Why You Should Care

Pesticides are one of the great environmental threats to our health, particularly with the proliferation of genetically modified foods. Multiple cancers, as well as Parkinson’s disease, asthma, and birth defects have been linked with exposure to them.

I’ve consulted with patients over the years who lived in agricultural areas and who had acute reactions to pesticides. One was a woman who lived downwind from an apple orchard that was regularly sprayed; she developed severe fibromyalgia and cardiac arrhythmias.

I am so concerned about this issue that it’s even influenced my holiday gift-giving habits. In my family it’s a Christmas tradition to send boxes of fruit—usually pears or apples—as gifts to our far-flung friends. When I began learning about the pesticide content in produce, I began taking extra precaution and now do a thorough check of the fruit vendors to make doubly sure our fruit gifts include only organic fruit.

Don’t sacrifice your health on this important topic, especially when there is such clear-cut guidance to help you. Print the Dirty DozenTM and Clean FifteenTM food lists and use them as guides every time you go shopping.

References:

© 2016, 2018, 2019, 2020 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply

14 Comments

  1. PD Cleveland

    on September 15, 2016 at 6:33 pm

    All my life I thought I was allergic to strawberries. [e.g., tongue swelling, throat closing, etc.]
    Since OG strawberries have been more readily available I tried them and learned
    that I am not allergic to strawberries, but YES all the stuff on them.
    I now love strawberries and what they can do for me.

  2. Bessie Depine

    on April 18, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    THANKS so much for this valuable info. Keep up the good work

  3. Beverly Ann S.

    on June 21, 2018 at 9:32 pm

    I have been determined to do my best to buy & eat as many green leafy veggies, plus cauliflower, apples, broccoli, blueberries, strawberries, carrots & avocadoes. My budget determines which of the above I can afford to buy organic. Whenever there is a special markdown I also buy organic unsweetened almond and/or coconut milk. I look for organic zucchini & other squashes to make spiralized spaghetti. It tastes good plus it’s fun to make!

    Omitting all kinds of sugar type products has helped me to lose up to 52 pounds since October 2016. My cardiologist said I was a “miracle”! I told him that I personally watched my father & my brother die from complications of Type 2 diabetes which progressed to heart/kidney failure. The greens give me magnesium which I cannot supplement ’cause of my medications for HBP. The above foods have helped to slow my progression of pre-diabetes, lupus, Stage 3 kidney disease, Shorten, fatty liver disease, asthma, and lowered all extremely high cholesterol categories including triglycerides & C-reactive protein (8.3 to 3.3). I praise & thank God for His grace & mercy & for doctor’s like Dr. Sinatra, Dr. Richard Becker, Dr. Mercola’s & Dr. Josh Axe who all help to inform & warn about what can do & what we can avoid to help ourselves & be responsive to information received. My primary doctor took all the comprehensive blood tests in Oct. 2016 which painted the horrible picture of my poor health! Blood never lies!! I am also thankful to my internist & cardiologist. I realize that I am responsible for what I put in my mouth & the right choices have been beneficial but it is a new lifestyle that my life depends on it. I may not live longer but the quality of life has improved!

  4. Mary Charles Bentley

    on November 8, 2018 at 7:25 pm

    Thank you for all this Info

  5. Atira

    on March 30, 2020 at 12:54 pm

    Thank you very much Dr.Sinatra I love and trust your advice and knowledge and feel safe with you in my life . I live in Scandinavia so it is difficult to buy your products but I follow you advice . I am middle aged but still feel young in my mind and want to live healthy . I have taken a DNA test both test show I can get all kind of canser so have to follow good advice about food and training . I also have a vascular problem AVM in head and hearth and a skin disease maybe Ehlers Danlofs syndrom . Herehospital do not want to use money to take the proper tests if you look fine and healthy so geneticist say I do not have the disease but diffrent doctors and one specialist tell me I have it since I have meny symptoms and after all I think doctors are right and also DNA test tell me there is a high possibilety I might have it . I do not know but can ask another hospital but today If you have a underlying disease maybe you will not be chosen in hospital if many people are sick at the same time and doctors have to choose from two persons this discussion is in media often now So if I have underlying desiase and me and another person both are sick from virus and the capasity is bad but otherone have not anything else doctors will not choose me so better they do not know I have any underlying desiase . I see everywhere there is happening a catastrofe it is always happening where there are to many old and sick like in Italy and Spain or where some people young or old that are a problem to a state or are foreigners . In Japan the atomic catasrofe with a lot of water flooding hits the area with mostly old and sick people ,in Kina the virus hits the town with the revolutonary students I do not think many left after this lock down and nobody knows what excactly happen with them if it was virus or killing or prison since nobody could report and only saw they was draged out of the houses , In Burma and India they use the terrorism to get away the muslims and i n Europe the lock down is about virus but with closed borders and selfcare n Europe the lock down is also about the foreigners getting thrue our borders to lock them out I think . But if it is taking to long time it will be a week europe an some other states in the world will be more powerful always someone using something or someone. Personaly for me better to be not so visible and not talk high about desiases not everyone want to help the sick and old sad but true . We talk nice about helping everybody but it is not like this always already doctors are choosing between us in hospitals instead of using the resourses for helping everybody until the last Hope the lock down and little spread of energy when everything is closed will make less of CO2 in the air and after some time a it will be colder and can trigger a new ice age instead of warmer climate and we will be left poor and freesing hope for a more loving world

  6. Stuart Small

    on March 30, 2020 at 7:45 pm

    If the Dirty Dozen are Organic, does that make them acceptable?

  7. Elle

    on April 1, 2020 at 6:30 am

    What about fruit and vegetable washes, those that are sprayed on the food and sit for a few minutes before they are rinsed? Can this method make it ok or at least much better to eat non organic cleaned by this method?

  8. HeartMD Editor

    on April 1, 2020 at 5:13 pm

    Hi Stuart, Yes, the Dirty Dozen are the conventional fruits and veggies that have the most pesticide residues (based on reports of USDA tests, analyzed by the EWG), so you want to purchase organic varieties of them. And the Clean Fifteen are conventional fruits and veggies that the EWG found to have the least amount of pesticides out of all produce tested. That said, the fact that organic raisins came up as having pesticides is confusing. The EWG says here (https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/raisins.php), “These pesticides cannot be used in the production of organic crops, so it is unclear why organic raisins are contaminated with these pesticides.”

  9. HeartMD Editor

    on April 1, 2020 at 5:13 pm

    Hi Elle, Good question, this is something we’ll have to look into.

  10. HeartMD Editor

    on April 1, 2020 at 5:19 pm

    Hi Atira, A more loving world would be a wonderful thing…We have seen some of that happen recently in the US, with citizens volunteering to make masks for hospital workers (who need them most during a shortage) and all sorts of health professionals volunteering their services to help out. Stay strong and healthy, and keep your spirits up! Hope can go a long way.

  11. Elle

    on April 2, 2020 at 1:49 pm

    Please let me know when you find out . Thanks.

  12. HeartMD Editor

    on April 3, 2020 at 11:41 am

    Hi Elle, Dr. Sinatra uses those vegetable washes, himself, and thinks it is always better to use a wash when preparing conventionally grown produce. Alternately, he has a couple of physician friends who use a diluted bleach solution—about 1 TBSP per gallon— as a brief soak as well. Another solution is to soak produce in a water solution that is 2% salt or 10% white vinegar.

  13. Elle

    on April 3, 2020 at 2:53 pm

    Thank you for your quick reply. I’m glad that I do something the Dr. approves of and does himself on occasion.

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