Organic and Non Organic foods – the dirty dozen and clean 15
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
I recently researched foods that are the most contaminated with chemicals from pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.
In an ideal world I would love everyone to be able to access and afford organic produce so they had more vitality. I also know that people with certain health conditions have difficulty processing chemicals at the best of times, let alone having to consume them daily from the foods we eat.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world, but there certainly are things we can do to improve the quality of foods we eat.
First, processed foods are amongst the most contaminated, unless shown to be made from organic ingredients – which is rarely considered.
I prefer to shop at our local farmers markets. I get to know the growers and sellers and buy from those who I know grow their own produce and don’t use any chemicals. I often find they can’t afford certification of organic status, but their produce is much cheaper than the Certified Organic.
Apart from being either spray free or organic, the produce I buy from the farmers market is also heaps fresher. If I have unfortunately missed the farmers market and need to go to the supermarket, the produce doesn’t last anywhere near as long before it wilts.
So onto the topic of contaminated foods. David Suzuki wrote an article about the ‘Dirty Dozen’ and the ‘Clean Fifteen’ which are two lists produced annually by the USA Environmental Working Group (EWG) from analysing U.S. Department of Agriculture data “to identify which fresh fruits and vegetables are most and least contaminated with pesticide residues.”
The lists show the 12 most contaminated foods (the foods best to buy organic if possible, or at least spray free) and the top 15 ‘clean foods’ (a list of fruits and vegetables that need the least amount of chemicals, or the chemicals used are considered safer or washed off).
By the way, waxed apples, although they have a wax, have at least been tumble washed prior to waxing. Having said that, washing non-organic food is worth doing to remove excess residue – but some of the chemicals can still leach into the produce. But at the end of the day, it’s best to wash all food, including organic, because birds, dust, and little crawlies visit the food that may visit your stomach later.
I also discovered plants that had not been sprayed or treated with chemicals often have higher naturally occurring substances that help the plant fight off disease and bugs. These plants are really helpful for our body’s immune system.
One of these is called ‘Salvesterols’ and is used to support people with cancer and other serious health disorders. It is postulated that the lack of these salvesterols in non-organic foods is part of the story towards the creation of disease in our body.
We simply are not getting these special nutrients. Then add the effects of processed foods, sugar, food additives, negative emotions etc, and no wonder humanity is getting sicker overall.
But we have to be practical, particularly when working within our budgets – and buying organic isn’t always necessary. This is where the dirty dozen and the clean 15 come into play as a quick resource to help you make the best choices for your health.
These lists are compiled in USA and there although there would be variations for different countries, including Australia, the differences are not significant.
The 2021 Dirty Dozen (in order of contamination)
This group of foods is considered the most contaminated, so definitely best to go organic or at least spray free for these foods.
- Kale/Collard Greens
- Capsicum and Chilli’s
I would add to this list eggs, nuts, and seeds (fats hold a lot of chemicals) and any meats that contain fat – the more marbled, or the more fat eaten, the more toxins it is likely to have.
The 2021 Clean 15 (in order of least contamination)
These foods have the least amount of toxic contamination, so spray free is good or if not, these foods are reasonably acceptable.
- Sweet Corn
- Frozen sweet peas
I would add sprouts and micro-greens, especially if you grow them yourself or buy from organic store/markets as these are usually grown in organic medium.
If it’s not on the above list, chances are it will be somewhere between the clean list and the most contaminated list, unless it was grown organically.
Back in 1986, I worked with the Department of Agriculture looking into the beef export scare that was happening back then. They found massive contamination in some of the beef we (Australia) exported, so I was commissioned (with others) to work on a project, first to locate the sources of contamination and quarantine the land, then to do research on finding what could pull these deadly toxins out of the soil.
Most of the quarantined land was where there were previous cattle ‘dips’, where they waded cattle and sheep through a trough of water with chemicals to rid them of parasites etc.
These chemicals were eventually banned but the land was still being used. When we researched what plants were most effective to pull out the toxins, the fastest was soy beans (or any legume really).
We already knew animals that grazed on the land were contaminated and the chemicals were mostly found in the fat, but some in the flesh as well.
Since then I have been cautious of non-organic foods, especially soy products. I discovered that toxins are found in the fats of both animal and plant matter, so anything with fat in it can potentially hold toxins if not organic. We too hold our toxins in our fat stores.
Further research I was involved with was to test all the local free-range eggs from the roadside stalls as I knew that free-range was better for the hens and generally tasted better. But I was horrified that all were heavily contaminated with various chemicals, some quite dangerous.
Chickens love to scratch around sheds, under houses, around gardens and garden edges (often sprayed or treated – think wooden sleepers). To be safe, I ensure my eggs are both organic and free-range pasture fed. As for fish, well that’s a whole other story about mercury up the food chain.
Every creature, vegetable, fruit, nut, seed etc is likely to be contaminated unless organic. If you trim the fats from meats you will avoid lots of toxic chemicals. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, feeding babies and young children (or everyone really) it is ideal to choose organic where possible, or at least buy ‘spray free’ for reduced exposure.
Keep an eye open each year for the latest annual ‘Dirty Dozen’ and the ‘Clean Fifteen’ – go to USA Environmental Working Group (EWG)
Making changes by choosing organic or spray free whenever possible is a wonderful gift for your body. By doing so, farming will gradually change…as would our health and vitality.