Have you ever found yourself standing in the grocery produce isle, wondering whether the organic bag of apples is really worth $4 more than its pesticide-sprayed neighbor? I have. And to be honest, learning to navigate our way around the organic food world has taken some practice, research, and good ol’ common sense because the word “organic,” in itself, does not necessarily mean healthy.
Gasp! What do I mean by not necessarily healthy?
Well, just like any other category of food, organic food can also be made into processed junk food. YES, organic ice cream and candy is undoubtedly healthier for your body than options with synthetic additives, refined sugars, and fillers, but I wouldn’t consider organic sweets to be all that nutritious or helpful on a regular basis. The truth is that whether we buy gluten-free, dairy-free, non-gmo, grass-fed, all-natural, or fill-in-the-blank, we still have the responsibility of choosing nourishing options that fuel & push us toward vitality.
I really feel that organic and non-gmo foods should be encouraged and pushed, but so should additional tools and awareness of nutrition that help us to see that avoiding chemicals is a huge step, but isn’t the whole picture.
Our biggest food changes over the past couple of years have been:
- cutting out processed foods & ingredients
- drastically reducing sugar and grains
- going organic, especially when it comes to produce and meat.
There really is so much to discuss surrounding food, and I am excited to delve into that this year with you! But today I want to talk about a very helpful tool that the Environmental Working Group has created to help families make informed and responsible choices when they are stuck in the grocery isle wondering about those bag of apples.
The Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen
The EWG came up with a unique system to take findings from FDA food testing and to group the “dirtiest” (highest level of residual pesticides found) and “cleanest” produce (lowest residual pesticides) together into two lists: The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen.
By utilizing these lists, we are able to see which items retain the highest level of chemicals after being harvested and “commonly prepared.” This means that before testing, bananas have been peeled, peaches washed, and the like.
The purpose of these lists is to equip families to make good choices while shopping.
They do not evaluate which types of pesticides remain, nor do they pretend to teach us anything about nutrition or which items on the list are “healthier” than others. The point isn’t to scare us away from foods found on the Dirty Dozen or to make us favor the Clean Fifteen. It is simply to help us out by saying, “Hey, this cherry tomato (even after washing) has some decent pesticide residue found on it, and you should probably be aware of that.” That way, when money is tight, you can opt for the organic tomatoes and cut corners on the conventional avocado with a clean conscience for taco night.
One more thing… Being on the “clean” list doesn’t mean that buying organic is no longer necessary.
I wanted to bring this up because I have read several comments from people online saying that since they found out about these lists, they no longer buy organic versions of the Clean Fifteen since they are so “clean.” Ok, first off, I am with them on the Clean Fifteen being cleaner. And certainly, if I can’t afford all organic produce then I will prioritize buying organic “dirty” foods over “clean” ones.
Still, the Clean Fifteen were lowest ranking for residual pesticides, not deemed pesticide-free. I personally would rather put back that “healthy” bag of organic sweet potato chips in my cart and use that money on buying an organic “clean” sweet potato to use for dinner, but that is just me.
Ultimately, these lists have been a great tool for our family and I hope you will find them to also be for yours. I designed a pdf file with wallet-sized lists (see below) that can be printed and used as a cheat sheet while shopping. The images above would also be great for taking screen shots or pinning if you like to use your phone to cheat!
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Let’s eat to health this year. Are you with me? Let me know in the comments below!
Note: Updated versions of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen are released by the EWG each year, and when a new one is put out this spring I will be sure to post an update!