Episode 149: What is the Dirty Dozen? Why Does It Matter?

In this episode, Dr. Toni discusses EWG’s 2022 Shopper Guide to Pesticides in ProduceTM, also known as the Dirty DozenTM and Clean FifteenTM lists for fruit and veggies. Conventionally grown fruit and veg can have residue from hundreds of different pesticides, some of which have been associated with increased risk of brain and nervous system toxicity, cancer and hormone disruption. How can you reduce exposure of these chemicals in you and your family and is it possible without having to break the bank by buying all organic? Listen in to find out!

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an organization in the US that ranks pesticide contamination of 46 different fruit and vegetables, based on results from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that tested over 40,000 samples of produce. 

What is the Dirty Dozen list of fruit and vegetables?

EWG’s 2022 Shopper Guide to Pesticides in Produce is created to share what fruit and veg have the highest levels of pesticide residues (Dirty DozenTM) and the lowest levels of pesticide residues (Clean FifteenTM)

Dirty DozenTM:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard and mustard greens
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Bell and hot peppers
  8. Cherries 
  9. Peaches
  10. Pears
  11. Celery
  12. Tomatoes

Clean FifteenTM:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet peas (frozen)
  7. Asparagus
  8. Honeydew melon
  9. Kiwi
  10. Cabbage
  11. Mushrooms
  12. Cantaloupe
  13. Mangoes
  14. Watermelon
  15. Sweet potatoes

What are pesticides? Why should you care about them?

Pesticides are chemicals that are created to kill insects, plants and fungi that are considered pests and used to support crops that are grown for food. 

Several pesticides have been associated with health concerns in people, with possible link to brain and nervous system toxicity, cancer and hormone disruption. Infants are more susceptible to the negative effects of pesticides than older children and adults due to a lower ability to detoxify those chemicals. 

While conventional farmers can use 900 different synthetic pesticides, organic farmers are allowed to use only 25 synthetic pesticides — and then only in carefully regulated ways by the USDA National Organic Program. 

Pesticides used can vary from country to country. Some pesticides still used in the US and Canada have been banned in the EU for over a decade. 

Important Notes about Pesticides on Your Fruit and Vegetables:

  • At least 1 pesticide is found on about 70% of conventional/non-organic produce tested by the USDA
  • Almost 70% of Clean FifteenTM fruit and veg had no pesticide residues
  • More than 90% of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines and grapes tested had residue from 2 or more pesticides
  • Less than 5% of Clean FifteenTM fruit and veg samples had 2 or more pesticide residues
  • Kale, collard and mustard greens had the most pesticides detected, and a single sample had up to 21 different pesticides 
  • Spinach samples almost twice as much pesticide residues as any other crop tested
  • Broccoli, cauliflower and eggplant were removed from the Clean FifteenTM list due to a lack of testing by the USDA
  • Testing by USDA was done after washing all produce samples
  • The USDA does not test all pesticides used on crops, including glyphosate (also known as RoundupTM) which is the most heavily used pesticide in the US and found on grains and beans like oats and chickpeas
  • Most corn and soy grown in the US are genetically modified to allow for spraying with RoundupTM and are processed into oil and corn syrup used in processed foods

Research from Harvard University produced lists of high and low pesticide produce that is similar to EWG’s Dirty DozenTM and Clean FifteenTM:

High Pesticide Residue Score: apples and apple sauce, blueberries, grapes, green beans, leafy greens, pears, peaches, potatoes, plums, spinach, strawberries, raisins, sweet peppers, tomatoes, winter squash

Low Pesticide Residue Score: apple juice, avocados, bananas, beans, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupe, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, eggplant, grapefruit, lentils, lettuce, onions, orange and orange juice, peas, prunes, summer squash, sweet potatoes, tofu, tomato sauce, zucchini

People who ate more high pesticide foods had higher levels of urinary pesticide products and lower levels of fertility. People who ate more low pesticide foods had higher levels of successful pregnancy, but may also be more health conscious and have a higher socio-economic status which impacts health. 

What Can You Do If You Can’t Afford To Buy Organic Produce?

Research has shown that commercial produce cleaners are no better at removing pesticides residues than water. Other methods have been demonstrated to be more effective at removing pesticide residues:

  • 10% salt water solution and 10% vinegar solution were effective in removing a large percentage of pesticides from cabbage when soaked for 20 minutes, more than washing with water
  • Ultrasonic cleaning with baking soda and water solution was shown to be effective at removing over 90% pesticide residues
  • 1% baking soda solution (1 oz to 100 oz water) was more effective than Clorox bleach at removing pesticide residues from apples when soaked for at least 12 minutes 

Today’s Mama Must Have:

Dr. Toni likes to keep a large jug of white vinegar under the sink for cleaning produce and using for household cleaning. 

What’s Else is Happening?

Dr. Toni’s next HypnoBirthing session for expecting parents looking to decrease fear and anxiety to support their natural instincts around labour and birth is happening this fall. Join her at https://www.hypnobirthingcalgary.com/register

Follow Dr. Lisa on instagram @drlisaweeksND for more info about Wild Collective and other events.

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Disclaimer: The information provided is not meant to replace treatment with a licensed health care practitioner. It is for informational purposes only. Consult with a Naturopathic Doctor or other licensed health care professional to determine which treatments are safe for you.