Michael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

The Best Diet Move I’ve Made

It's that time of year when more fruits and vegetables become available. Here is a list of the “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables and the “Clean 15” to have on your table

IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR: THE “DIRTY DOZEN” fruits and vegetables proclamation. Let’s look at this annual (and controversial) ranking of non-organic fruits and vegetables based on pesticide amounts.

The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit organization that aims to improve the environment and human health. Each year, the group gives us a “dirty dozen” list of fruits and vegetables. It also releases a “Clean 15” produce list.

First, I want to put a disclosure front and center. Several prominent organic marketers fund the Environmental Working Group.

The “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables

The Environmental Working Group’s annual Dirty Dozen report exclaims strawberries, spinach, and nectarines have the most pesticide residues. Here is the complete 2022 rundown:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard, and mustard greens
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Bell and hot peppers
  8. Cherries
  9. Peaches
  10. Pears
  11. Celery
  12. Tomatoes

The EWG notes that a small amount of papaya, summer squash, and sweet corn sold in the United States is made from genetically modified seeds. Consider buying organic varieties of these crops if you want to dodge genetically modified produce.

The “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables — testing

The US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do the testing. They found 245 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on over 70 percent of non-organic produce.

Before performing a test, the USDA washes, scrubs, and peels them as a typical consumer would. It seems clear from the report that simple washing is not enough to remove all pesticides.

Photo by Zoe Schaeffer on Unsplash

The “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables — Criticism

An industry group for growers of produce (both organic and non-organic) and some dieticians offer objections to the report, noting that the annual report raises an unnecessary alarm and may discourage folks from eating enough fruits and vegetables.

Listen to Teresa Thorne, Executive Director of the Alliance for Food and Farming:

“Ignore or discount the list.” Like others, she fears that if an organic fruit or vegetable costs more, as they often do, consumers will bypass produce altogether, especially low-income consumers. “Pick what’s best for you and your family,” she says.

Counters toxicologist Dr. Alexis Temkin of the Environmental Working Group: “All the residues found were within legal limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency. She adds that “although the levels are legal, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are safe.

On the other hand, the report provides information to help consumers make informed decisions about the produce they choose to purchase.

Before you turn away from buying that produce, remember that both organic and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables have pesticides of different sorts. There is a Pesticide Residue Calculator from toxicologists at the University of California, Riverside, that provides some comfort.

You can use the calculator to see that trace amounts of chemicals in conventionally grown produce don’t appear to be hazardous. One may consume 850 apples per day without suffering harm from pesticides. I am a bit sceptical about such claims, but the calculator provides another perspective.

I am a work in progress, trying to have about half of my plate filled with fruits and vegetables. That is the best move I’ve made in my diet in a long time. You too should think about getting those fruits and vegetables!

What is your approach?


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Michael Hunter, MD
Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

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