The Dirty Dozen and 12 Foods You Should Always Buy Organic

Posted on June 10th, 2014 by in Healthy Living, Nutrition

organic_vegetableLast year, we published an article about organic food and how to decide what to purchase when comparing organics to other conventional fruit and vegetables. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released its 2014 list of produce containing the highest and least amounts of pesticides. The list changes frequently, based on crop conditions in a given year, but Annie B. Kay, an integrative dietitian and Kripalu’s Lead Nutritionist, says certain foods (such as apples, strawberries, and spinach) are longtime occupants of the list.

Nutritionist and Kripalu Healthy Living faculty member John Bagnulo, PhD, MPH, highly recommends buying organic when it comes to the items on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list. “It’s an unnecessary risk, especially for children, to consume fruits and vegetables with those chemical loads, ” he says.

The Dirty Dozen

These 12 fruits and vegetables contain the highest levels of pesticide residue, herbicides, and fungicides. Here’s the list in the order of toxicity:







Sweet bell peppers

Nectarines (imported)


Cherry tomatoes

Snap peas (imported)


John is most concerned about fruits like peaches, apples, and strawberries, because of the volume people eat, especially kids. Americans also consume large quantities of potatoes—as french fries, baked potatoes, and potato chips. According to the EWG, the average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food.

In addition to these 12 foods, the EWG has added hot red peppers, kale, and collard greens to its Dirty Dozen Plus list. If you can’t buy these items certified organic, or if organic is too expensive, John suggests avoiding them altogether and choosing alternatives from the EWG’s Clean 15 list.

The Clean Fifteen

Buy and eat these to your heart’s content.


Sweet corn*



Sweet peas (frozen)










Sweet potatoes


Remember that the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen only consider pesticide residue, so if you’re looking to avoid GMOs (genetically modified organisms), these lists won’t help. Generally, organic food is your best bet for avoiding GMOs, says Annie. For that reason, John wouldn’t put conventionally grown sweet corn and papaya on his clean list, and personally avoids eating these foods.

Learn more about food and healthy eating.


About Jennifer Mattson

Jennifer is a journalist, writer, yogini, and kirtan junkie. A former volunteer resident at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, she’s a former broadcast news producer for CNN and National Public Radio. Her reporting and writing have appeared in The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, USA Today and the Women’s Review of Books.

One Response to “The Dirty Dozen and 12 Foods You Should Always Buy Organic”

  1. Rebecca S. March 2, 2015 1:03 am #

    When choosing whether to buy organic or not, it’s important to consider whether the amount of pesticides used with conventionally grown food are at harmful levels. Studies, including ones conducted internationally, have shown that little evidence exists to support the claim that conventionally grown food contains high enough levels of contaminants to harm one’s body. A study led by Bravanta, a senior affiliate of Stanford, provides some illuminating information on the subject.

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