Don’t Be a Know-It-All; The Dirty Dozen

If you’re not a regular reader of Caitlin’s Healthy Tipping Point, check out my guest post about Girls on the Run today!

HTP is a big-time blog. Thanks for having me, Caitlin!

And on a different note:

While out to dinner with my family last weekend, my brother ordered a baked potato. When he didn’t eat the skin, I took it off his hands and started eating it myself. My mom looked at me and said, “Hmm I don’t know if I’d do that… you never know how well restaurants wash their potatoes.” I (over)confidently said, “Oh, it’s fine. Haven’t you heard of the Dirty Dozen? I don’t think potatoes are on that list. This should be fine to eat.”

Turns out no one in my family had heard of the Dirty Dozen – and they are pretty well-versed in the ways of organics, nutrition, food safety, etc. I (accurately) told them about this list, and how it documents which types of produce have the most pesticide and chemical exposure and are best to buy organic.

“I’ll send it to you!” I told my mom.

So I get home to look up a link to the Dirty Dozen, and what do I see in the ninth spot?


I guess that’s what I get for being a know-it-all.

That and some ingested pesticides.

So, since we all have some learning (or reviewing) to do, let’s check out the list.

1. Apples

2. Celery

3. Strawberries

4. Peaches

5. Spinach

6. Nectarines

7. Grapes – imported

8. Sweet bell peppers

9. Potatoes

10. Blueberries – domestic

11. Lettuce

12. Kale/collard greens

You can greatly reduce your pesticide exposure by buying these items organic. Or, if you’re shopping at your local farmers market and notice that some of these items aren’t marked organic, ask the farmer if he/she use pesticides. Getting certified organic is an expensive undertaking that many farmers can’t justify, but if they tell you about their growing process and it sounds trustworthy, I’d go ahead and buy.

Of these twelve items, I very frequently eat apples, strawberries, spinach, sweet bell peppers, domestic blueberries, and kale. (I eat most of them multiple times a week – spinach every day and always an apple at work.)

According to the Environmental Working Group, “Picking 5 servings of fruits and vegetables from the 12 most contaminated would cause you to consume an average of 14 different pesticides a day.”

It’s important to avoid pesticides (and push for a reduction in their usage!), because pesticide exposure has been linked to several types of cancer – from breast to non-Hodgkins lymphomas to soft-tissue sarcomas – and lower-grade symptoms like headaches, dizziness, nausea and confusion. Pesticides also damage the environment. They float into our air, flow into our water supply, and damage the diets and ecosystems of animals.  Synthetic chemicals, weed killers and DDT (a pesticide banned in the US in 1972) are some of the pesticides that show up on the Dirty Dozen.

I know some people subscribe to the theory that each unit of produce only has a trace amount of pesticide on it by the time it reaches your mouth, but that’s a dangerous line to walk. A “trace” amount may be okay to consume once in a blue moon, but if you are eating non-organic items with known pesticide risks multiple times a week, those trace amounts add up.

So, try not to buy ’em! Purchasing organic produce is one very effective way of voting against the use of pesticides.

On the other hand, many people don’t have access to organic produce. If that’s the case for you, try to purchase more from the Environmental Working Group’s Clean Fifteen. These products are the least likely to test positive for pesticides, and are deemed safe to eat without the organic label.

I haven’t always been the best about buying organic. Maybe that was clear in my potato slip-up. But this is something I am working to be more conscious of.

I’ll leave you with a healthy dinner idea, complete with local tomatoes, organic spinach (that one I knew!), and roasted local carrots.

Tempeh Tacos

Also of interest:

Pesticides Taint Apples

Bess’ post: NC Farm to School Program – I loved this!

This entry was posted in Awareness, Nutrition, Policy, Public Health, Sustainability and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Don’t Be a Know-It-All; The Dirty Dozen

  1. Pingback: Favorite Foods in Charlotte | In Sustainability and in Health

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