Posted on: May 31, 2016 at 1:59 pm
Last updated: September 14, 2017 at 4:34 pm

This amazing post was written by Jenn Ryan, a freelance writer and editor who’s passionate about natural health, fitness, gluten-free, and animals. You can read more of her work at


Depending on where you live and your budget, it can be hard to find organic produce at great prices. If you’re able to have your own organic garden, that’s fantastic! The rest of us, however, are forced to shop local markets and supermarkets for our produce, trying to find some fresh organic goodies to fill our carts.

It’s no secret that buying organic costs more than buying conventional produce. Although both organic and conventional produce use pesticides, organic produce does not use any synthetic pesticides. Many people don’t know that organic produce (at least in the United States) is allowed to still use pesticides as long as they are organically derived.


Sometimes buying organic just isn’t an option, either because the closest supermarket to you doesn’t have a great selection or you just can’t spare the extra cash (although really, what is your health worth?).

What should you be buying organic? And what is it ok to skip?

Introducing—The Dirty Dozen

Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) updates their guide for shopping for produce without pesticides. Their results are pretty shocking—sometimes even peeled fruit still contain pesticides according to their testing!

However, EWG highlights the Dirty Dozen, which is a group of 12 produce items that have the highest number of different pesticide residues and the highest concentration of pesticides. Yes, this includes even after washing and/or peeling.


For 2016, these 12 produce items make the Dirty Dozen list from the EWG:

  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Celery
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers

A shocking 98% of strawberries, peaches, nectarines, and apples tested by EWG contained pesticide residues. Potatoes were not included in the top 12 but contained more pesticides than any other produce item.

Grapes and bell peppers contained 15 different pesticides, while strawberries contained 17.

These top 12 foods are the ones that you should be buying organic! When buying any of these items, choose organic or choose not to purchase. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t want 17 different pesticides entering my body just from eating one non-organic strawberry!

Prioritize with The Clean Fifteen

Let’s take a breather after that list and those crazy amount of pesticides. Whew. Okay. You’ll feel better in a moment.

EWG also composes a list of the Clean Fifteen, which is a list of 15 different foods that typically do not carry pesticide residues or contain very low concentrations and very few pesticide residues on them.

The Clean Fifteen include:

  • Avocadoes
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Frozen Sweet Peas
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Papayas
  • Kiwis
  • Eggplant
  • Honeydew Melon
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower

Avocadoes top the list as only 1% of those tested showed any pesticide residues. Of all the fruits on this list, none of them tested positive for more than 4 pesticides.

These are the foods that it’s okay to skip organic on at your local market. Although you’ll want to look for non-GMO corn unless you like GMOs.

What’s So Bad About Pesticides, Anyway?

From causing cancer to making you infertile, pesticides have many different issues that are best avoided. Pesticides are specifically designed to kill pests in the environment with chemicals. These chemicals are going into the ground, into our drinking water, and into our food, air, and bodies. Not cool.

Exposure to concentrated pesticides can be fatal, but other illnesses develop from exposure over time even through eating food. A 2007 study found that women exposed to pesticides were six times more likely to give birth to a child with autism spectrum disorder. A 2009 study found “a significant risk” of cancerous brain tumors from exposure to herbicides in children who’s parents used these poisons at home—yes, this includes Roundup! Think twice before spraying your lawn this year, love.

Pesticides can disrupt hormone production and regulation, fertility for both men and women, can cause birth defects, behavioral problems, and many more issues.

The Bottom Line

Avoiding pesticides seems impossible at times. From neighbors who willingly spray their lawns with toxic chemicals that can harm their children to farmers who spray acres and acres of land with poisons that will eventually cause cancer and birth defects worldwide, it seems like a battle that can’t be won.

However, you make a decision with each and every dollar you spend. Growing your own food is incredibly empowering and a humbling experience, but because many people cannot do this, choosing organic at the supermarket and asking your local grower for more organic choices is crucial.

If, however, you’re having trouble making ends meet, keep in mind the EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. Make your home safe for you and your family. Protect your children and their children. Not all food is created equal—the government has made sure of that.

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Jenn Ryan
Freelance Health & Wellness Writer
Jenn Ryan is a freelance writer and editor who's passionate about natural health, fitness, gluten-free, and animals. She loves running, reading, and playing with her four rescued rabbits.

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