Pesticides in Fruits and Vegetables: The Clean 15 & The Dirty Dozen

April 19, 2022

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I'm Kimberly - a women's health functional nurse practitioner.  I am here to help you achieve vibrant health!

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Toxin exposure is a prominent health concern in our world today. Pesticides are one form of potential toxin that can cause all kinds of problems in our bodies including inflammation, hormone disruption, nervous system disruption, cancer, oxidative stress and damage in the cells and all organs of the body. Functional medicine places a heavy emphasis on screening for toxic exposure and estimating the degree of toxic load in the body.


Toxins come from the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the materials and products we use such as packaging, skin and personal care products, medications, and recreational substances such as alcohol, nicotine/tobacco, marijuana and other recreational drugs, chemicals in cleaning products and other products, and much more. Toxic pesticides can leave residue on the fruits and vegetables we eat.

Pesticide Toxins

We are exposed to toxins in the form of pesticide residue in many of the fruits and vegetables we consume. Each year, the Environmental Working Group presents a list of foods that have the least amount of possible pesticide exposure and the most pesticide exposure. These are called the “Clean 15” and the “Dirty Dozen”. I will present both in this article in order to help you decide whether to purchase organic or non organic foods.

One word of caution is the Dirty Dozen foods should not be considered “off limits”. But rather, you may want to consider purchasing these fruits and vegetables as organic to ensure less possible toxic exposure. Alternatively, you may want to have an identified method for

The Clean 15

The word is out! Here are the top “cleanest” foods to eat with the least amount of pesticide exposure or pesticide residue according to the Environmental Working Group. I recommend eating organic whenever possible, but if you are not in a position to do so, and are trying to decide which fruits and vegetables you can eat safely without adding the expense of organic choices, then these are the foods to put at the top of the list as they are likely to have the least chance of pesticide exposure.


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Sweet Corn

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Sweet Peas (frozen)

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Honeydew Melon

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Sweet Potatoes

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The Dirty Dozen

YES! Eat these… just do so mindfully! The foods in this category are some of the healthiest and most nutrient dense foods available! They should definitely NOT be avoided. What to consider, however, is whether to buy them organic to ensure no or minimal pesticide exposure or to purchase with the intention of cleaning them in a way so as to remove any pesticide residue. But by all means, do not avoid these amazing foods… just be mindful. I have included instructions on cleaning produce to reduce/eliminate pesticide residue at the end of this article.


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Kale, Collard, & Mustard Greens

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Bell and Hot Peppers

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How To Clean Your Produce

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Cleaning produce is important if purchasing non organic foods from the Dirty Dozen list. Here are three ways to wash fruits and vegetables to reduce pesticide residues.

Vinegar Spray

This is a particularly good option for removing bacteria from produce as well as reducing pesticide residue. Fill a spray bottle with 1 part distilled white vinegar and 3 parts warm water. Spray the fruit/ vegetable, give it a quick scrub with a veggie scrub brush, and rinse clean with tap water.

Vinegar Soak

Fill a large bowl with 1 part vinegar and 3 parts warm water. Mix well, add the produce, and allow it to soak for 15 minutes. If possible, scrub the produce with a veggie brush and then rinse clean with water. This works well for all fruits and vegetables and is particularly useful for delicate produce like berries and mushrooms.

Baking Soda Soak

Fill a large bowl with 2 quarts warm water. Add 2 tablespoons baking soda and mix well. Add the produce and allow it to soak for 10-15 minutes. If possible, scrub the produce with a veggie brush and then rinse clean with water. Like the vinegar soak, this works well for delicate produce.

In conclusion, pesticides are a form of toxin that can do harm to the body. We should be mindful of pesticide exposure and possible pesticide residue in the food we purchase. The above lists can be helpful in allowing for thoughtful consideration of whether to buy organic produce or not. Food from both lists are highly nutritious and beneficial to the body on so many levels and should not be avoided just because they are on the Dirty Dozen list. But rather, choosing ORGANIC for the Dirty Dozen or making a commitment to carefully clean non organic produce, becomes the choice at hand that allows us to enjoy all of these glorious foods.

Want to Know Your Toxic Load and Do Something About It?

Don’t forget to shop at your local Farmer’s Market for the best organic options!

I can help you with this. In functional medicine, we commonly evaluate symptoms for possible toxic exposure and toxic load in the body. With this in mind, I use a functional medicine symptom survey called The Toxicity and Symptom Screening Questionnaire to do this. The survey identifies symptoms that help to reveal the underlying causes of illness, and helps track progress over time.  The survey gives a score that indicates mild, moderate or severe toxicity. This can be an objective measure of response to treatment over time, and is quite useful!

If you are a woman living in Washington State where I am licensed as a nurse practitioner, and owner of Valencia & Sage, LLC, you can register to work with me. I treat women with a variety of health concerns, and through my process, you will receive a personalized functional medicine evaluation and holistic treatment plan. Schedule a FREE 15 minute Telephone Consultation to get an idea of whether you have toxic build up in your body that needs to be addressed or to discuss any other health concerns that you might have.

You can register for my patient portal HERE to schedule your FREE CONSULTATION. If you are not living in Washington State, feel free to join my private Facebook Group here. I will be posting more information on this topic there. And if you would like to join my Email List to receive beautifully designed, simple, informational emails every 1-2 weeks, please sign up HERE. I include women’s health, functional medicine and holistic health tips in my emails, and love connecting with you that way. Until we meet again… enjoy your day! And remember… FOOD IS MEDICINE! Kimberly

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