Don't skip strawberries! A dietitian's take on “Dirty Dozen” fruits and veggies

Dirty Dozen RTF

Have you seen the latest list of fruits and vegetables that are being called the Dirty Dozen because of their high number of pesticides?

We thought some tips from an Ohio State dietitian would help you decide which produce you prefer to buy at the grocery store.

Our dietitian’s most important message: It’s always better to eat fruits and vegetables rather than avoid them because of pesticides. Period.

“There are many studies that show us that the more plant foods we eat, the healthier we’ll be, with less risk of disease,” says dietitian Candice Schreiber, LD, RD, who works with people who have cancer or have survived cancer at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.

She frequently hears the same questions about the Dirty Dozen list, which is published by the pro-organic advocacy organization Environmental Working Group.

  • Am I harming my health if I buy conventionally grown (i.e., with pesticides) produce?
  • Does eating organic really improve my health?
  • What if I can’t afford or can’t find organic strawberries, peaches or celery, which can cost considerably more than conventionally grown?

Before we get to how Schreiber addresses those questions, check out the Dirty Dozen for 2016. Say it isn’t so, strawberries!

  1. Strawberries
  2. Apples
  3. Nectarines
  4. Peaches
  5. Celery
  6. Grapes
  7. Cherries
  8. Spinach
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Sweet bell peppers
  11. Cherry tomatoes
  12. Cucumbers

Special mention: Hot peppers and leafy greens including kale and collards have some particularly toxic chemicals, and the Environmental Working Group advises buying organic if you eat a lot of those.

Organic vs. conventional

The list often comes up at Schreiber’s cooking demos, grocery shopping tours and educational sessions through JamesCare for Life, the outreach arm of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. Experts with Nutrition and Dietary Services at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center also help with practical solutions for healthy living.

Schreiber remains unbiased on the list because there is not enough evidence for her to recommend buying organic, she says.

Some research indicates that there are higher vitamin and mineral levels in some organic foods and some potentially negative health effects from high exposure to pesticides.

But research can’t tell us whether eating organic leads to a healthier body or whether eating produce with pesticides increases risks for various diseases, she explains.

“If you follow the list to a T does that mean you’re not going to get cancer? No. It’s just a helpful guide.”

Sticking to organic might be a best choice for people who tend to err on the side of caution, she says. 

She points to the list, or a similar one by Consumer Reports, when people are worried about pesticides but don’t have the budget for 100-percent organic produce.

Try these ideas for potentially less pesticides:

  • Buy produce in season when you can find better deals on organic and the food has more nutrients
  • Look for growers at farmers markets who don’t use pesticides
  • Don’t count out canned or frozen vegetables if you can’t find a fresh option
  • Remember that you don’t have to go to a specialty grocery store to buy organic because standards are the same at any store
  • Don’t forget to wash fruits and vegetables with running water!

What about those berries?

As for strawberries topping the list – knocking off apples as the five-year No. 1 – Schreiber says don’t give up on one of summer’s favorite treats.

“They have fiber, they’re low in calories and their color shows they’re full of phytochemicals that have some cancer-fighting properties,” she explains. “They’re just good for us.”


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