6 Tips for Navigating the 2011 Dirty Dozen

On June 13th, The Environmental Working Group released its 2011 “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists of the most and least pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables. While an apple a day was once the epitome of health, it was actually the number one most heavily sprayed crop to top this year’s list.

Choosing organic food is always a great option for reducing your exposure to toxic pesticides. Plus, you support smaller family farms and help increase the demand for pesticide-free foods. That’s good for everyone and the environment. But organic is not always readily available. Here are eight more ways to prioritize your shopping habits to reduce exposure to pesticides and avoid the Dirty Dozen.

First, let’s take a look at the lists.

The EWG’s 2011 Dirty Dozen (aka most pesticides)

1. Apples

2. Celery

3. Strawberries

4. Peaches

5. Spinach

6. Nectarines (imported)

7. Grapes (imported)

8. Sweet Bell Peppers

9. Potatoes

10. Blueberries (domestic)

11. Lettuce

12. Kale/collards

and the Clean Fifteen:

1. Onions

2. Corn

3. Pineapples

4. Avocado

5. Asparagus

6. Sweet Peas

7. Mangoes

8. Eggplant

9. Canteloupe (domestic)

10. Kiwi

11. Cabbage

12. Watermelon

13. Sweet Potatoes

14. Grapefruit

15. Mushrooms

It helps to prioritize your focus when shopping. Keep some of these tips in mind and see if they help make your purchasing decisions easier when it comes to buying the healthiest fruits and vegetables:

  • Think organic: Whether replacing something on the Dirty Dozen or one of your faves on the Clean Fifteen, by opting for organic whenever possible, you will always lower your exposure to pesticides significantly. You also support organic farming, which benefits smaller farms, the soil, air and water as well as what you’re putting in your body.
  • Ditch the GMOs: Ok, now, let’s talk about corn. No summer grill would be the same without it, but it’s one of the most common genetically modified crops planted in the U.S. (86 percent of corn planted last year was GMO!). Crops planted for animal feed and biofuels are almost always GMO and so are some sweet corn cobs in the supermarket. If you want to avoid GMOs and reduce your exposure to pesticides, opt for organic corn every time without exception.
  • Look for alternatives: Choosing organic does make a huge difference in reducing your risk of pesticide exposure—if you can’t find organic options for those on the Dirty Dozen list, try substituting. Instead of conventional apples, choose organic pears or another seasonal fruit that’s organic. If organics are out of the question or too expensive, swap out a subsitute with options listed on the Clean Fifteen list (think sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes or watermelon instead of strawberries).
  • Buy in bulk: Great quality organic seasonal fruits and veggies can be cooked or juiced, frozen, canned or fermented, and even dehydrated or dried to last you through the week, or through the seasons.
  • Talk with your growers: Seek out farmers markets, CSAs (community supported agriculture) or community gardens where you can connect directly with the growers to make sure you’re getting the healthiest organic options. Some may not yet be certified organic, but they may be using natural alternatives to pesticides. Take a farm tour to learn more. And hopefully you’ll even find new fruits and vegetables to try that are tasty and safe.
  • Wash your fruits and vegetables! All produce tested by the EWG has been thoroughly cleaned before analysis so that washing a fruit or vegetable would not change its rank in their Shopper’s Guide. But if you don’t wash conventional produce, the risk of ingesting pesticides is even greater than reflected by USDA test data. You can add vinegar to your produce rinse for extra cleaning power.
  • Grow an organic garden: There’s no better way to prevent the risk of pesticides than by growing your own organic food from seed. It’s not just healthy—it connects you to nature and your food in immeasurably positive ways.
  • Keep eating your fruits and veggies at every meal. According to the EWG, the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. So the healthier you are, the better your body can defend itself against toxins. The Food Pyramid was just replaced with “MyPlate”—which recommends that more than half of each meal should come from plant foods.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Photo: muammerokumus