How Clean is Your Food: 2018’s Dirty Dozen and Why I Choose Organic

How Clean is Your Food: 2018’s Dirty Dozen and Why I Choose Organic

How do you know which aisle to shop in the produce section of your local grocery store? How do you decide if paying a little extra for something labelled “organic” is actually worth it?

This week, I delve into the word of organic vs conventional food, and let you know why organic wins out in my book.

Progressively more and more people are becoming aware of the connection between food and their personal health. Perhaps you’re like one of my many clients who has decided to take ownership about optimizing their health now. 

Indeed, if my practice is any indication, becoming health conscious is no longer the exclusive domain of new or expecting mothers—nor is it the forté of those looking to overcome an ailment, disease or a condition like I was. Increasingly, individuals who are looking for a business edge or students looking to increase their cognitive performance are also realizing, like many athletes have, that what you chose to chomp on has a direct impact on your ability to perform—be it in the boardroom or the classroom. 

Regardless of your reason for eating for performance over pleasure—it all boils down to one thing: a prioritization of your grocery purchases.
— Kelly

In a perfect world, we should all know, and care, about how our food is raised, handled, and cultivated, and by whom. This extends not only to the care and treatment of animals, employees, and the earth, but also to which types of fruits and vegetables yield the highest pesticide residues—and which do not. 

This year’s guide from The Environmental Working Group (EWG) may just help in this regard. If you haven’t heard of the EWG, it is an American environmental organization that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, public lands, and corporate accountability. 

This year, as in years past, they have tested and ranked fruits and vegetables with the highest concentrations of pesticides and compiled their results in a list known as the “Dirty Dozen”. How you chose to proceed with the information they collected and the lists they compiled is entirely up to you.

How to Avoid Pesticides

To avoid as many pesticides as possible, your best bet is to go organic. Even if you eat more fruits and vegetables than other people who chose conventional produce, going organic will result in you eating fewer pesticides.

Choosing organic produce will also help shape the future of our food system and support local farmers. Grocery stores stock food based on demand. If more and more organic produce is purchased, stores will be forced to comply with customer demand and stock more organic options.

This is good news! Not only for you, the consumer interested in better health, but good for the environment, the land, birds, animals, and helpful critters that live on or near farms. Increased demand for organic foods will become a positive disruption to industrial farming while helping to support local farmers at the same time. Ultimately, this will create a greater shift towards to healthier earth - and in turn, a healthier population.

What exactly is Organic?

2018’s Dirty Dozen is very similar to last year’s

So what exactly is the list of 2018’s “dirtiest” foods? According to the EWG, it includes the following:

2018 “Dirty Dozen"

  1. Strawberries

  2. Spinach

  3. Nectarines

  4. Apples

  5. Grapes

  6. Peaches

  7. Cherreis

  8. Pears

  9. Tomatoes

  10. Celery

  11. Potatoes

  12. Sweet bell peppers


How “dirty” are these foods? One sample of strawberries was found to contain 22 pesticide residues, with a third of samples containing at least 10 different pesticides. 97% of all conventional spinach tested, the second dirtiest food, contained pesticides and insecticides purported to be neurotoxic. 

Beyond the dozen food items listed, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas, lettuce, and blueberries comprise the next four pesticide-rich foods on the list. 

What do all these fruits and vegetables seem to have in common? Generally, they all have thin or soft skins. These thin, soft skins tend to allow more toxins to be absorbed into the flesh of the fruit. So even if we wash it extremely well or peel off the skin (which also removes many of the nutrients and beneficial fibre within the fruit), the majority of the toxins sprayed on the fruit are still present within the flesh of the fruit itself.

For this reason, these are the foods you should choose to buy organic—like apples, pears, peaches, and plums.

In contrast, conventional fruits with thick skins or rinds like bananas, pineapples and cantaloupes are usually fine. So if you are deciding when paying extra to buy organic is necessary and when it's not, these thick-skinned fruits, even if sprayed, are generally safe. Few toxins, if any, can penetrate the thick skins. Besides, these skins or rinds are not typically eaten.

Here is the official list of the EWG’s cleanest foods for 2018:

2018's “Clean Fifteen”

  1. Avocados

  2. Sweet corn

  3. Pineapples

  4. Cabbage

  5. Onions

  6. Frozen sweet peas

  7. Papayas

  8. Asparagus

  9. Mangoes

  10. Eggplants

  11. Honeydews

  12. Kiwis

  13. Cantaloupes

  14. Cauliflower

  15. Broccoli

Though critics may claim the “Dirty Dozen” list is a scare tactic, as always, I advise you to know the facts, to learn about the risks, and to make your own educated decision.

As for me, even if scientific evidence claims the EWG’s warnings are unfounded and pesticide levels discovered in most of the “dirtiest” foods fall below tolerance levels set by the EPA, I still choose to buy organic. No one (especially the EPA) can determine what levels of pesticides are “safe” for me and my family. Maybe in minute amounts, we’d be ok. Maybe if our bodies are healthy and able to detoxify ingested chemicals efficiently, we may be able to handle these pesticides in small doses. 

But what if your liver has been overworked from decades of daily detoxification? What if it cannot filter out or handle toxins the way a healthy liver should? What if these toxins are allowed to accumulate in your body? What then? Though toxins may be ingested in small amounts, the total accumulation of these “small” amounts can add up. No organization can determine the sum effects of this “minute” accumulation over time, and personally, I don’t want to find out how my health may be affected if I allow this accumulation.

In my opinion, all toxins are undesirable. Certain toxins are carcinogenic while others damage brain cells and affect cognitive function. If you have any type of neurodegenerative disorder or immune dysfunction, any amount of toxins, even in “safe” doses could be bad news.  

This is why I chose to eat organic.

What you chose to do, is up to you. But I encourage you to become educated, to become an advocate for our food supply, and to support local farmers and the local economy.

Eat whole, real food to nourish your body - it’s the only one you’re ever going to have. Treat it with respect, and nourish it well. 

Become whole food optimized.

Do you source organic foods and avoid toxins when possible? As always, I’d love to hear from you.


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