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Report: When to Buy Organic

September 4, 2013

Originally published March 12, 2012

It is common knowledge that a healthy diet is one that includes five to six servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and many people are becoming more aware of the health benefits of reaching these numbers. Fruits and vegetables promote good health by containing essential vitamins, minerals and fiber that help protect people from chronic disease, but, according to a report from the Environment Working Group (EWG), a research and advocacy group, many fruits and vegetables also contain pesticides.

EWG analyzed pesticide residue testing data from the USDA and the FDA to come up with rankings for popular fresh produce items. The organization released a report in 2011 listing the top contaminated fruits and vegetables. EWG calls the top 12 contaminated fruits and vegetables the "Dirty Dozen" and encourages consumers to buy these items organic (vs. conventionally grown) in order to avoid the pesticides. Some items indicate whether the item to which it refers is imported or grown in the U.S. For example, imported grapes make the list but domestically grown grapes do not. The fruits and vegetables that make up the "Dirty Dozen" are: 

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines - imported
  • Grapes - imported
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Blueberries - domestic
  • Lettuce
  • Kale/collard greens
"Picking five servings of fruits and vegetables from the 12 most contaminated would cause you to consume an average of 14 different pesticides a day," EWG reports in its findings. The findings are based on data from the USDA of food samples that were tested in the state of which there are consumed. For example, grapes are washed before eaten and carrots are often peeled; therefore, the produce was tested in this state.
 
Along with ranking the vegetables and fruits most likely to test positive for pesticide residue, EWG ranks the produce least likely to test positive for pesticides. These fruits and vegetables are called the "Clean Fifteen" and are: 
  • Onions
  • Sweet corn
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet peas
  • Eggplant
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Pineapples
  • Avocados
  • Mangoes
  • Cantaloupe- domestic
  • Kiwi
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
If you choose five servings of fruits and vegetables a day from EWG's Clean 15 rather than the Dirty Dozen, you can lower the volume of pesticide you consume daily by 92 percent, according to EWG calculations.  

EWG is quick to point out though, that it is better to eat conventionally grown produce than to not eat fruits and vegetables at all. The Georgia Department of Public Health encourages people to read over the Dirty Dozen list, but to remember that a diet full of fruits and vegetables far outweighs possible exposure to trace amount of pesticides. Five or more servings a day of fruits and vegetables can help prevent heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.