• tanellewestgard

the dirty dozen

You may be wondering what exactly I mean by “dirty” in this case?

Dirty refers to the pesticides (chemicals) that are used to grow these various fruits and vegetables. These pesticides are used to kill off insects and other organisms to allow the growth of more produce. If these chemicals are meant to kill produce, you can just imagine what they are doing to our bodies.

Although there are guidelines set in place by Countries around the world, there are still a ridiculous amount of these chemicals in the foods we eat every day. This is why EWG (The Environmental Working Group) creates the following lists:

1) A list of the foods that contain the highest amount of pesticides: The Dirty Dozen.

2) A list of the foods that contain the lowest amount of pesticides: The Clean Fifteen.

First, let's go over the lists:

I, like many of you probably did, went through a kale loving phase. Kale in smoothies, kale in salad, kale in stir-fry, kale in everything. I used to make kale chips as a snack and my roommate/one of my very best friends, looked at me like I was this crazy person. While there is nothing wrong with eating that much kale... little did I know it is one of the most pesticide contaminated vegetables. When I say one of the most, I mean over 90% of kale tested contained pesticides (1). Not just one or two types but 18 different types of pesticides (1). One of these is known as Dacthal or DCPA, which is so bad for us that even Europe banned it (1).

This is why knowledge is power. Knowing what choices to make will allow us to limit our consumption of these chemicals. Something as little as swapping out the dirty dozen for the clean fifteen will make all the difference.

Now that you understand a bit more about the "dirty dozen", we can dive into the research behind pesticides and its effects on our health.

Did you know that nearly 70% of the produce from the USA comes with pesticides? (1)

Okay, so if these foods are contaminated, we can just wash and peel them, right!?

Sadly, for us, these foods were tested AFTER they had been washed and peeled (1). This means that regardless of what we do, we are still intaking pesticides.

What exactly do these foods do to our bodies?

The College of Family Physicians of Ontario did a review of studies that revealed pesticides were associated with increased risks of the following (2):

  • breast cancer

  • lung cancer

  • brain cancer

  • leukaemia

  • lymphoma

  • kidney cancer

  • neurological diseases

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • ALS

  • Alzheimer’s

Another study found a correlation between the consumption of “dirty” foods and fertility problems (3). Even I was surprised by the research I came across making this post.

Not to worry though, there is hope! A study done in France showed that those who consumed a higher percentage of organic foods had a decreased rate of cancer by 25% (4). This makes sense when we look at a study showing how people that ate organic foods had a much lower quantity of pesticides in their urine (5).

So this leads into a discussion on organic foods:

What is organic?

It’s an approach to producing food that avoids synthetic chemicals, hormones, antibiotics (pesticides), genetic engineering (GMO) and more (6).

Research on organic foods have shown that they expose us to many fewer pesticides that are said to be associated with human diseases (6).

The other good news I have is that it is not too late to create a healthy change for our bodies.

One study compared the number of pesticides found in the urine of those that ate a non-organic diet and then switched to an all-organic diet. During the non-organic diet, they detected 40 different pesticides. After just one week of eating an all-organic diet, they determined a 60% decrease in pesticide amount (7). Isn’t that crazy!!

As we all know, organic foods are much more expensive. Therefore, it is for each of us to decide what to do with this information, and how we can use and apply it in our own lives.

Like I said, knowledge is power xo


1) Environmental Working Group. (2019). EWG’s 2019 shopper’s guide to pesticides in produce. Available at:

2) Arya, N. (2005). Pesticides and human health. Canadian journal of public health, 96(2), 89-92.

3) Chiu, Y. H., Williams, P. L., Gillman, M. W., Gaskins, A. J., Mínguez-Alarcón, L., Souter, I., ... & Chavarro, J. E. (2018). Association between pesticide residue intake from consumption of fruits and vegetables and pregnancy outcomes among women undergoing infertility treatment with assisted reproductive technology. JAMA internal medicine, 178(1), 17-26.

4) Baudry, J., Assmann, K. E., Touvier, M., Allès, B., Seconda, L., Latino-Martel, P., ... & Kesse-Guyot, E. (2018). Association of frequency of organic food consumption with cancer risk: findings from the NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort study. JAMA internal medicine, 178(12), 1597-1606.

5) Curl, C. L., Beresford, S. A., Fenske, R. A., Fitzpatrick, A. L., Lu, C., Nettleton, J. A., & Kaufman, J. D. (2015). Estimating pesticide exposure from dietary intake and organic food choices: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Environmental health perspectives, 123(5), 475-483.

6) Forman, J., & Silverstein, J. (2012). Organic foods: health and environmental advantages and disadvantages. Pediatrics, 130(5), e1406-e1415.

7) Baudry, J., Debrauwer, L., Durand, G., Limon, G., Delcambre, A., Vidal, R., ... & Lairon, D. (2018). Urinary pesticide concentrations in French adults with low and high organic food consumption: results from the general population-based NutriNet-Santé. Journal of exposure science & environmental epidemiology, 1.

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