New This Month

Here's Why You Don't Need to Stress Out Over the "Dirty Dozen"

Go ahead, enjoy your kale and strawberries. 

farmers' market produce
Photography by: Sarah Carey

If the the new "dirty dozen" list has you ready to ban certain fruits and vegetables from your fridge (again), here's some good news: You may not have to. Published today by the Environmental Working Group, the annual ranking of high-pesticide produce named strawberries, spinach, and kale as 2019's top contaminated foods to avoid. However, experts say there's no need to stress out over consuming these tasty fruits and vegetables—and that you don't need to nix them from your diet, either.

 

"This list does not give consumers a food safety or nutrition advantage in any way," Tamika Sims, PhD and director of Food Technology Communications at the International Food Information Council Foundation tells us. "All fruits and vegetables, organic and conventional, are regulated by government agencies like the EPA, FDA, and USDA for both quality and safety. Neither is more safe or nutritious than the other." 

 

RELATED: Your Guide to Sesaonal Produce in March

 

Sims reminds us that various pesticides are used when growing both organic and conventional produce; residues found on either are in small enough amounts that experts say they're not linked to any adverse health effects. "The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued reports confirming that overall pesticide chemical resides found on foods are at levels below the tolerances established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency," says Sims, adding that "they do not pose a safety concern" in such small amounts. (Other experts disagree, so it's important to educate yourself on the impact pesticides have on our food and the food chain as a whole.)

 

That's not to say that there aren't any benefits to buying organic food, of course, but it's important to remember that they are not the gold standard of healthy eating that some people might think. In fact, as the movement around the organic food movement booms, more farmers and food manufacturers who are technically sticking to guidelines that qualify as "organic" aren't always producing food that is better for you—or the planet, according to the Washington Post

 

RELATED: Beyond Organic—Here's What Sustainable Food Looks Like

 

The notion that buying organic is the only way to shop can also be harmful for shoppers who don't have as much access to this type of produce, which is often associated with higher prices. Sims explains: "According to a study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, dietary messages where people are made to believe organic fruits and vegetables are healthier can lead to unhealthy consequences." 

 

In other words, consider worrying less about overhauling your grocery list with every "dirty dozen" and "clean fifteen" update, and focus instead on simply eating enough fruits or vegetables daily. "The best thing to do is aim to get the advised fruit and vegetables servings each day," reminds Sims. "This can be done with both conventional and organic produce or you can choose one or the other—but buy what is affordable for and available to you."