When meeting with a new client we always go over aspects of nutrition. One staple that I ask is whether they have heard of “The Dirty Dozen”. I generally get a quizzical look and am asked if I mean the WWII movie!
The Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen are actually lists updated annually and produced by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The EWG are an American environmental research and advocacy organisation who conduct original research in order to inspire people, businesses and governments to take action to protect human health and the environment. Their mission is to create a healthier and cleaner environment for “the next generation and beyond”.
The Dirty Dozen contains the top 12 fruits and veggies that contain the highest pesticide residue levels and are recommended to buy organic. The Clean Fifteen, on the other hand, contains the fruits and veggies that have the lowest levels of pesticide residues and are less likely to test positive for multiple pesticides. If you want to maximise your grocery shopping budget, these lists are essential tools for deciding when it is worth spending more for organic produce.
THE DIRTY DOZEN (always buy organic)
- Cherry tomatoes
- Hot peppers
- Collards and kale
- Summer squash and zucchini
As from 2012, the EWG began calling the list the Dirty Dozen Plus in order to call attention to collards, kale, summer squash and zucchini, vegetables that did not qualify for the Dirty Dozen, but are of special concern because samples tested positive for organophosphate and organochlorine pesticides that are exceptionally toxic to the nervous system.
THE CLEAN FIFTEEN (OK to buy conventional)
- Cantaloupe (rock/sweet melon)
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Sweet potatoes
Don’t think, though, that the above lists don’t refer to produce here as most supermarkets in New Zealand are inundated with non-organic produce from overseas, including the United States.
So how does New Zealand fare in comparison to overseas? The following information shocked me:
New Zealand’s Dirty Dozen (in order)
- Peaches (fresh or canned)
- Apricots (fresh or canned)
- Wheat: bread, all products (including flour)
So what do these pesticides do to us?
Studies have shown that exposure to organophosphate and organochlorine pesticides may result in numerous health problems including diabetes, attention deficit disorders, prostate cancer, fertility problems, thyroid disorders and obesity. The most vulnerable are foetuses and children.
An organophosphate pesticide, chlorpyrifos, is used on a range of fruit and vegetables and grain in New Zealand. It has been found in celery, peaches, apricots, apples, pears, mandarins, oranges, raisins, sultanas, grapes, tomatoes and bread, amongst others.
A 2007 study (1) linked chlorpyrifos with delays in learning rates, reduced physical coordination and behavioral problems in children, especially ADHD. In 2010 another study (2) found that organophosphate exposure was also associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Chlorpyrifos was banned in the US in 2000 for home and garden use as it is highly toxic to both humans and wildlife, particularly bees.
Before I started buying organic produce, I avoided the organic food store like the plague believing it to be so expensive, that I would need a second mortgage just to enter there. What I’ve discovered, though, is that, yes, it is more expensive but not horribly so, especially if you buy your Clean Fifteen produce from a high street supermarket.
So what if you feel you can’t afford to buy any organic produce. As the EWG says, "The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure." Much better to have an apple, albeit doused in pesticides, than a doughnut. But the 'Dirty Dozen' are foods to think twice about, regardless of their country of origin.
My household budget for food is high. My husband has complained regularly but I always challenge him with the question: “What price can you put on your health and the health of your children?” It always shuts him up.
Until next time…
(1) Study Links Organophosphate Insecticide Used on Corn With ADHD. Beyond Pesticides. 5 January 2007.
(2) Hayden, K.; Norton, M.; Darcey, D.; Ostbye, T.; Zandi, P.; Breitner, J., et al. (2010). "Occupational exposure to pesticides increases the risk of incident AD: the Cache County study". Neurology74 (19): 1524–1530.
Bev Short is a qualified Personal Trainer, Gorgeous Me photographer and mother of two teenage daughters.