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An in-depth look at the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15

An in-depth look at the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15

May 5th, 2018 by Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D. in Features

Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Charles Bronson ranked as the top three members of the Dirty Dozen when the film premiered in 1967. Since then, thanks to the Environmental Working Group's annual report on pesticide levels in fruits and veggies, we've come to learn that there's little star power in that ranking, at least when it's applied to the produce we eat.

The EWG makes it clear that there are measurably risky pesticide residue levels in our food supply, despite the fact that since 1993 (and before) the government has known how toxic they can be. And there are serious repercussions: A study in JAMA last year found that a woman going through assisted reproductive technologies who eats two or more servings a day of high pesticide residue fruits and vegetables reduces her chance of a successful pregnancy by 26 percent! And a 2015 study found that men seeking fertility-enhancement treatment who had the highest level of pesticide residue in their blood had the most compromised semen quality.

The EWG annual report on the foods with the highest pesticide residue and, thank heavens, the adjoining report on the Clean 15 help you select the most healthful foods. Hint: You do not always have to buy organic!

The Dirty Dozen: In descending order, they are: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and sweet bell peppers.

According to the EWG: "More than 98 percent of samples of strawberries, spinach, peaches, nectarines, cherries and apples tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide. A single sample of strawberries showed 20 different pesticides. Spinach samples had, on average, 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight as any other crop."

An example of how toxic pesticides persist in your food supply: Although Environmental Protection Agency scientists recently re-evaluated the evidence about the effect of organophosphate pesticides on a child's brain and behavior, and concluded that the pesticide chlorpyrifos was unsafe, EPA head Scott Pruitt canceled a scheduled chlorpyrifos ban and announced that the agency would not finish its safety assessment for chlorpyrifos until 2022.

The Clean 15: The fruits and veggies least likely to contain pesticide residues included avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbages, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplants, honeydews, kiwis, cantaloupes, cauliflower and broccoli.

Less than 1 percent of samples of avocados and sweet corn had any detectable pesticides. More than 80 percent of pineapples, papayas, asparagus, onions and cabbages had no pesticide residues.




1. All veggies and fruits (including triple-washed packaged greens) should be well-washed before eating.

2. Eating fresh fruits and veggies is SO HEALTHFUL that you do not want to KO them from your diet. Opt for organic versions of the Dirty Dozen when you can, and certainly if you plan to get pregnant within the year or are pregnant or nursing. Aim to eat seven to nine servings of produce daily.

3. Indulge in the Clean 15! Cruciferous veggies like broccoli can help you battle cancer and keep your gastro system moving along. Avocados contain healthy fats and help stabilize blood sugar (stick with 1/4 avocado per serving). Papayas deliver serious digestive benefits with their enzyme papain, and their polyphenols such as beta-carotene help fight off cancer, diabetes and asthma.

4. Get informed about pesticides on organic veggies. In reaction to the EWG report there's been agra-biz blowback (brother, is there blowback!). Pesticides used on organic crops include sulfur, lime sulfur, mineral oil, copper-based fungicides, Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) and other live biologicals. Those pesticides leave a minor residue on produce, but the Department of Agriculture says that they're nontoxic. And while synthetic chemicals like pheromones are organic-allowed, these are substantially different from the toxic synthetic pesticides used in conventional farming.

So, dish up that salad, fruit cup and plate of steamed veggies; they are key to a healthier, longer life and a younger RealAge.


Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit www.sharecare.com.


(c) 2018 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D.

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