The Clean 15 and the ‘ole Dirty Dozen insight from EWG on Organic Foods

What do these buzz words make you think of: Organic food, organic health products, all natural, and green?  Have they lost their authenticity for you due to over use or misuse? What are the real take home messages with these concepts?  The organics industry has developed because of human health and ecological problems stemming from industrial pollution toxicity.  The world of environmental medicine involves learning and implementing strategies to keep these toxins out of our bodies. It is a daunting one to face.  Our industrial world has given us many comforts and conveniences while increasing the amount of unnatural substances our body’s detoxification systems have to filter to keep us healthy.  Food production has also become more industrial and many are concerned over the effect pesticide and herbicides have on our health. The organics food industry has sprung from these concerns.  Toxic substances found in food is one aspect of environmental medicine.  

Organic foods are produced with less or no chemical inputs, or inputs deemed harmless to human health. To produce commercial organic food farmers must be certified by a certification agency approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.  In Atlantic Canada the organization is Atlantic Certified Organic Co-operative Agency (ACO).  Their website is:  There are a lot of detailed forms and applications that must be filled out and the land upon which the food will be grown has to have been free from chemical inputs for a number of years.  Some of the larger organic farms that produce food which end up in our grocery stores are large monoculture farms in the US, especially California.  The obvious benefit to these foods is their low chemical inputs. However, when we buy these foods rather than their local counterpart we are missing out on benefits like supporting the local economy and decreasing pollution from far reaching transportation.   

There are local certified organic producers and from what I understand of the industry one of the biggest advantage for them is the ability to sell to larger stores which require labeling letting consumers know the product is indeed organic. This is a great service to provide. It does cost the farm to be certified organic and some small scale producers opt out of this because they sell directly to consumers and they can explain how their farm runs and what inputs are used.  Big Spruce Brewing and Brenton Fields in Nyanza and Dellside in Port Hood are some Cape Breton examples of certified organic farms. 

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American organization promoting environmental health; the EWG publishes great consumer guides on organic foods.  They have helped consumers concerned with pesticide and herbicide residues out by creating lists called ‘The Dirty Dozen’ and ‘Clean 15’.  This is great information to help you choose healthy foods known to have less pesticide residues and which to get locally.  The Dirty Dozen includes the foods with the highest amount of pesticide residues from 48 commonly consumed foods.   In order of most residue to least pesticide and herbicide residues the dirty dozen are listed below. 

The EWG’s ‘Dirty Dozen’: 


  1. Apples

  2. Strawberries 

  3. Grape 

  4. Celery 

  5. Peaches

  6. Spinach

  7. Sweet Bell Peppers

  8. Imported Nectarines 

  9. Cucumbers

  10. Cherry Tomatoes

  11. Imported Snap Peas 

  12. Potatoes  

The EWGs ‘Clean 15’ in alphabetical order:


  1. Asparagus

  2. Avocado 

  3. Cabbage 

  4. Cantaloupe 

  5. Cauliflower 

  6. Egg Plant 

  7. Grapefruit 

  8. Kewi 

  9. Onions 

  10. Papaya 

  11. Pineapples 

  12. Sweet Corn 

  13. Frozen Sweet Peas 

  14. Sweet Potatoes 


For the benefit of our communities it's great to get as much food locally as possible.  We have wonderful farmers markets which provide low chemical input foods.  Talk to the farmers and if the food is not sprayed or is organic try to get it there before using exclusively the organics isle at the grocery store.  Although this is a great service our grocery stores offer, the more small farms we have the more food security we have and the stronger we grow local economies.  

Who's most at risk from pesticide residues? 
Experts agree that children are more at risk for negative consequences from pesticides than adults and have done studies showing that eating organic food decreases exposure and body burden of pesticides in children. In my opinion as an naturopathic physician people with a strong family history of cancer may want to be strict in their food choices eating foods as low in pesticide residues as possible.  These lists are a great place to start.  Naturopathic medicine offers practical and important information for cancer and disease prevention.  Other conditions which may be more affected by pesticides are endocrine issues - these are hormonal problems like female reproductive issues and thyroid disease.    Experts also agree that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweighs negative consequences of non organic foods.  I also agree with this! So in any case eat your greens and fill your plate with all the colors of the rainbow found in foods. For more information and to see the complete list of 48 foods tested by the Environmental Working Group go to

Yours In Health, 
Dr. Erin