Food for Thought: Organics and the Dirty Dozen

An afternoon snack – organic plain yogurt, organic frozen berries, sliced almonds, and a drizzle of raw Lehua honey from Hilo, Hawaii

What choices do you make when you’re in the grocery store?  Do you mainly shop the perimeter, to avoid the junk and snack food aisles in the middle?  Do you look at the labels to make sure a product is free from hydrogenated oils?  High fructose corn syrup?  Artificial sweeteners?  Or do you make sure you only buy bread that has 100% whole wheat as the first ingredient?  Most of us have a train of thoughts going through our minds as we make decisions on what to bring to our tables, myself included.

In regards to produce, I try to buy locally (I love my farmer’s markets!).  My grocery store has a picture profile of a local farmer for certain items like corn, tomatoes, mushrooms, and lettuce, so it feels good supporting the community.   And sometimes, I’ll pick up a few organic items.  Organic foods go through a certification process through the USDA, and among the criteria, do not use chemical non-organic fertilizers or pesticides, artificial additives, chemical ripeners, or undergo food irradiation.  In terms of organic meats, eggs, and dairy products, animals are not treated with antibiotics or growth hormones.

The choice is really a personal one.  You may choose to go organic because of environmental reasons, lower your exposure and ingestion of pesticide residues, or they just taste better to you.  In terms of nutrition, the debate is still out on whether organic produce is significantly more nutritious than non-organic.  Organic foods are grown in smaller crops and are more labor-intensive than conventional methods of farming, so you’d also have to consider the increased price tag for organics.  I once saw a 1/2 pint of fresh, organic raspberries going for close to $7.  That doesn’t make sense to me; instead, I’d rather buy frozen organic berries (cheaper) or head out to my local farmer’s market, where I know those berries didn’t travel thousands of miles to get to my store.  No need to compromise my carbon footprint on a 1/2 pint of berries!

The Environmental Working Group released a list of 47 produce items that range from containing the most pesticides to the least.  If you’re thinking about buying a few organic produce items in your weekly grocery trips but don’t want to increase your weekly food budget too much, you might choose to consider buying the items that are in the Dirty Dozen (produce that has the highest amount of pesticides compared to their conventionally-grown counterparts) rather than the Clean 15.  Remember to wash your produce thoroughly too, regardless of organic or not.

The Dirty Dozen:

1.  Peaches

2.  Apples

3.  Sweet bell peppers

4.  Celery

5.  Nectarines

6.  Strawberries

7.  Cherries

8.  Kale

9.  Lettuce

10.  Grapes – imported

11.  Carrots

12.  Pears

The Clean 15:

The “Clean 15″ are fruits and vegetables that are ranked lowest in pesticides from the Environmental Working Group.

1.  Onion

2.  Avocado

3.  Sweet corn

4.  Pineapple

5.  Mango

6.  Asparagus

7.  Sweet peas

8.  Kiwi

9.  Cabbage

10.  Eggplant

11.  Papaya

12.  Watermelon

13.  Broccoli

14.  Tomato

15.  Sweet potato

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11 Responses to Food for Thought: Organics and the Dirty Dozen

  1. lo says:

    These lists were my “bible” when we were first starting off buying organic. These days, our priority is local…but whenever we can find local and organic (or local and sustainable), we go for it. Best of all worlds — great produce that hasn’t traveled far, packed with nutrition, and with the lowest possible environmental impact.

  2. nutrition to kitchen says:

    Lo – so right. I’ve also found that a lot of the local farmers utilize some organic and sustainable processes too, even though they’re not certified organic (I think it has to do with the costs and stringency of the program). Thanks for coming by! :)

  3. Beautiful photo cuzzie…..mmmm, lehua honey :)

  4. nutritioulicious says:

    I wrote about this exact same topic on my blog back in August ( and I agree that choosing organic is a very personal choice. That’s what I tell clients and others who ask me about this. My preference is always to choose local, seasonal produce.

  5. I was actually just discussing this list with some people at a food/climate summit today. I try to buy local and organic whenever possible. I also try to avoid going to the store when hungry so that I avoid the middle junk food aisles! Nothing in them is really worth buying…all a bunch of highly processed junk. If I’m going to splurge, I like to make homemade desserts and such.

  6. Julie says:

    Hi Tram-
    Really nice and informative piece, and the yogurt photo is just making me drool, you always have such nice pictures!! :)

  7. I’ll just echo everyone else’s comments. I think organic is important, especially with the dirty dozen, but I do value produce from local farmers who for one reason or another haven’t gotten certified. Also echo the comment about the great pictures!

  8. From your link to the Dirty Dozen you can print out a list that fits in your wallet. It is helpful to have at the store. I usually make two copies. And often give one away.

  9. Thanks for the link to the list. I try to buy organic whenever I can. Some of those stats are scary!

  10. Ann says:

    Thanks for the link. Exactly where do you find organic frozen berries in Chennai? We are planning to relocate to chennai.

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