Updated For 2018: The Dirty Dozen And Clean 15 Fruits And Vegetables - Save Our Bones

Every year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes two lists that every Saver should have on hand in the grocery store: The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen.

The Dirty Dozen lists 12 conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that contain the highest levels of toxic pesticide, fungicide or other chemical remnants. This residue adds to your body’s toxic load, taxing your kidneys and liver, acidifying your pH, leading to accelerated bone loss.

The Clean Fifteen represent the other end of the spectrum: 15 fruits and vegetables that, even when not grown organically, only rarely have small traces of pesticide residue.

So let’s dive in and begin with the “dirtiest” produce list for 2018.

The Dirty Dozen

The following fruits and vegetables are the worst offenders, and they’re listed in order from the most pesticide-ridden. We recommend you get them organically grown.

1. Strawberries*

Possibly because they grow so close to the ground, strawberries are susceptible to many pests, particularly soil pathogens. As a result, conventionally-grown strawberries are doused with chart-topping amounts of pesticides, most of which are sprayed on the fields before the crop is even planted. Happily, though, it is entirely possible to grow these gems organically on a commercial level and more farmers are doing so.

Strawberries are loaded with Vitamin C and polyphenolic antioxidants, such as anthocyanins, that provide them with their bright color. They boast a low glycemic load, making them delicious bone-friendly treats.1

2. Spinach

Spinach is sprayed with a neurotoxic pesticide that has been banned in the European Union, and yet many American farmers continue to coat their crops in it. As many as 17 other pesticides have been found on a single sample of this leafy green. Samples tested by the USDA were found to contain chemicals banned for use on spinach that may have drifted from other crops. Some conventional spinach also contains the illegal pesticide DDT, likely from residual soil traces leftover from the 1970s.

Spinach is a great source of Vitamin K1, a necessary nutrient for the synthesis of the bone-building hormone osteocalcin.2 And don’t let its green color fool you, spinach is one of the best sources of beta-carotene, the water-soluble form of Vitamin A. Spinach also contains good levels of folate, which helps to reduce inflammation by decreasing levels of the inflammatory compound homocysteine, thereby protecting bone.3

3. Nectarines

The USDA has tracked residues of 33 different pesticides on nectarines. The most common one is a neurotoxin called formetanate hydrochloride used on more than half of all conventional nectarines.

A single genetic variant away from peaches (you guessed it, the fuzz gene), nectarines contain generous amounts of Vitamins A, C, beta-carotene, and polyphenol antioxidants. The peel is also a rich source of bioflavonoids, which help your body absorb Vitamin C, an essential nutrient for producing collagen for the bone matrix and other.

4. Apples*

Apples are consistently near the top of the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list. They contain an average of 4.4 pesticide residues, including a chemical called diphenylamine used to prevent brown spotting. European authorities have restricted this chemical over health concerns, but American regulatory officials gave the chemical a pass, and now conventional apples in the United States are drenched in this toxin after harvest.

There are around 2,500 varieties of apples in the world, and about 100 of them are commercially available in the United States. No matter whether you’re picking a Fiji, a Pink Lady, or Granny Smith, be sure to buy organic. Apples were the number one offender on this list for many years running, and remain one of the most chemical-laden conventional fruits.

But don’t forsake this staple fruit! Phloridzin, a polyphenol exclusively found in apples and especially concentrated on apple peels, has been shown to prevent bone loss.4

5. Grapes*

Conventionally grown grapes bear as many as 15 different pesticides on a single crop and they average five. With more than 96% of conventional grapes testing positive for pesticide residue, you’re basically guaranteed that non-organic grapes are adding toxins to your body.

Red varieties are famous for having among the highest levels of resveratrol. This antioxidant defends against both cancer and heart disease. In preliminary studies, resveratrol has also been shown to stimulate osteogenesis5. Additionally, grapes contain an antioxidant called caffeic acid, known for its ability to reduce inflammation. That’s great news for Savers, so don’t give up grapes, just go organic.6

6. Peaches*

The pesticides regularly found on peaches include carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and neurotoxins. More than 99% of peaches have detectable pesticide residues.

This fuzzy fruit contains among the highest levels of a lesser known flavonoid called fisetin. Studies show that fisetin protects bones by inhibiting osteoclasts, the cells that remove aged and damaged bone tissue to make way for new growth.7. Peaches are also a good source of potassium and Vitamin C.

7. Cherries*

A carcinogenic pesticide called iprodione was found on 30% of conventional cherries. This chemical is banned in Europe, but cherries in the Americas are likely to contain iprodione and other toxins.

A study found that, after consuming Bing cherries, participants had significantly lower blood levels of several inflammatory biomarkers8. This is due, in part, to their high levels of antioxidant compounds. Tart cherries have even more antioxidant goodness than sweet cherries, with double the amount of total phenols and a whopping 20 times the level of beta-carotene and Vitamin A.

8. Pears

More than half of conventionally grown pears tested bore traces of five or more pesticides in relatively high concentrations.

Pears are an important dietary source of polyphenolic antioxidants such as flavonols, anthocyanins, and isoflavones, as well as Vitamins C and K. Plus, a single pear provides 22% of the daily recommended allowance of fiber. Don’t leave the power-packed pear out of your diet, but don’t buy them conventionally grown or you’ll also get a mouthful of toxins.

9. Tomatoes*

Tomatoes are a fragile fruit, and conventional growers use an average of three to four pesticides on them, but 30 plus chemicals are in regular use.

Nothing says summer like a fresh, vine-ripe tomato. Tomatoes are packed with Vitamins C, A, and B6 (pyridoxine) and the essential minerals iron, potassium, and manganese. But what they are most known for is their high concentrations of the carotenoid compound lycopene, which has been shown to inhibit postmenopausal bone loss9.

For best lycopene benefits, consume tomatoes cooked in olive oil, as the cooking process increases lycopene content.10 But don’t forget to buy organic since these fruits are on the “dirty” list.

10. Celery*

Nearly all celery samples tested positive for pesticides (95%), and whopping 64 different pesticide residues have been found on the vegetable by the USDA.

Satisfyingly crunchy and high in fiber, celery is a great source of Vitamin K and molybdenum, an essential trace mineral that supports strong bones by promoting detoxification.11 Celery also contains a host of anti-inflammatory phenolic antioxidant compounds, including caffeic acid, apigenin, and quercetin.

11. Potatoes*

Potatoes hold the unfortunate record for having the most pesticide residues by weight of all the crops tested by the EWG.

This humble root vegetable contains a wealth of antioxidants, including Vitamin C, phenols, carotenoids, flavonoids and anthocyanins, particularly the deeper colored red-skinned and purple-fleshed varieties. And you can leave on the skins of organically grown potatoes, where the antioxidants are concentrated by up to 10 times more than in the flesh. Potatoes also contain iron, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.

12. Sweet Bell Peppers*

Bell peppers made the list even though they contain fewer types of pesticide residue than the other 11 foods because the pesticides on them are particularly toxic to human health. Almost 90 percent of conventional pepper samples turned up pesticide residue.

Bell peppers are a rich source of Vitamins C, A, B1 (thiamine) and B6 (pyridoxine), as well as folate and potassium. Red peppers outperform green ones by nine times in terms of beta-carotene content and contain twice the amount of Vitamin C. Bell peppers are also a good source of Vitamin E and the mineral manganese, which is essential for proper bone development.12

The Clean Fifteen

The Dirty Dozen are the 12 fruits and vegetables you should only eat if they’re organically grown. Otherwise, you’re bringing toxic acidifying chemicals into your diet. If you’re in a pinch, and organic isn’t available, you’re not completely out of luck. These 15 fruits and vegetables are less likely to bear a coating of toxins, and a smaller number of types of chemicals were found on their skins.

1. Avocado*

  • EWG found that less than 1% of avocados tested positive for pesticides
  • Rich in Vitamins K, D, C, E, and Boron, Copper and B9 (folate)
  • Improves liver function
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Contains liver-detoxifying taurine13

2. Sweet Corn

  • Less than 2% was found to have pesticide residue
  • Often genetically modified, so best to buy organic anyways
  • Rich in Vitamins B5 (pantothenic acid), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), and phosphorus, manganese and fiber

3. Pineapple*

  • 90% were found to be pesticide free
  • Rich in Vitamins C, B6 (pyridoxine), B1 (thiamine) and B9 (folate), copper and manganese
  • Contain the digestive enzyme bromelain

4. Cabbage*

  • Rarely contain more than one pesticide, but 14% did show residue
  • High in calcium and silicon, plus potassium, manganese and Vitamins K, C, and B9 (folate)
  • Contains tryptophan, required for creating an intestinal calcium absorption aid: picolinic acid

5. Onion*

  • Less than 10% of onions contained pesticide residue
  • High sulfur content aids construction of cartilage and tendons, supporting bone growth
  • Excellent source of flavonoid polyphenols that increase synthesis of osteoblasts14
  • Contain Vitamins C, B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate), manganese, chromium, molybdenum, potassium, phosphorus, and copper

6. Sweet Peas* (Frozen)

  • 80% were free of detectable pesticides
  • Rich in Vitamins K, C and B-complex, manganese, magnesium, copper, and Zinc
  • One cup contains about 30mg of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid
  • Phytonutrients including coumestrol and saponins

7. Papaya*

  • 80% were free of detectable pesticides
  • Contains the antioxidant lycopene
  • Great source of Vitamin C
  • Contains the digestive enzyme papain for the breakdown of protein

8. Asparagus*

  • 90% of asparagus were found with no pesticide residue
  • Contains Vitamins K, C, D and B-complex
  • Good source of glutathione, the Master Antioxidant

9. Mango

  • No more than two pesticides were found on the 22% of mangos with pesticide residue
  • Rich in Vitamins A, C, and B6 (pyridoxine), and potassium and copper
  • Mangoes have been shown to increase bone density15

10. Eggplant

  • About three quarters of tested eggplants were pesticide free
  • Skins contain anthocyanins, directly linked to increased bone density16
  • Provide manganese, Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and K, potassium, folate, and niacin

11. Honeydew Melon

  • 50% were found to be pesticide free
  • One cup contains more than half your daily dose of Vitamin C
  • Source of fiber
  • Source of the bone-building antioxidant chlorophyll

12. Kiwi*

  • 65% showed no trace of pesticide residue
  • Another good source of glutathione, the master antioxidant
  • Contains Vitamin C and E, making it a great flu prevention fruit17

13. Cantaloupe*

  • More than 60% of cantaloupe were found to be pesticide free
  • Rich in antioxidants and beta-carotene
  • Contains Vitamins B3 (niacin), B6 (pantothenic acid), C, B9 (folate), and potassium

14. Cauliflower*

  • Half showed no trace of pesticides
  • Contains Vitamins K, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pyridoxine), and B6 (pantothenic acid), plus B9 (folate), choline, potassium, manganese and magnesium
  • A cruciferous vegetable containing detoxifying phytochemicals

15. Broccoli*

  • 70% of broccoli samples were pesticide free
  • Only 10% showed more than one pesticide
  • Rich in calcium, boron, flavonoids, plus Vitamins K and C
  • Cruciferous vegetable with d-glucarate, the same phytochemical found in cauliflower

*Foundation Food

Eat Well To Be Well

The items on these two lists are chock-full of nutrients your bones and body need to thrive. That’s 27 delicious foods to stock your pantry and fridge. When you’re at the grocery store, be sure you buy the Dirty Dozen from the organic aisle to avoid toxic pesticide residue. Organic is always preferable, but if you need to buy conventional, choose from the Clean 15.

Eat Your Way to Stronger Bones!

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Till next time,


1 https://berryhealth.fst.oregonstate.edu/health_healing/fact_sheets/strawberries_facts.htm

2 Pearson DA. “Bone health and osteoporosis: the role of vitamin K and potential antagonism by anticoagulants.” Nutr Clin Pract. 2007 Oct;22(5):517-44. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17906277

3 Pooneh Salari. “Effect of folic acid on bone metabolism: a randomized double blind clinical trial in postmenopausal osteoporotic women.”Daru. 2014; 22(1): 62. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4172791/

4 Meena Shah, et al. “Effect of a High-Fiber Diet Compared With a Moderate-Fiber Diet on Calcium and Other Mineral Balances in Subjects With Type 2 Diabetes.” Diabetes Care, Volume 32, Number 6, June 2009. Web. https://repository.tcu.edu/bitstream/handle/116099117/19946/content.pdf?sequence=1&i

5 Puel , Quintin et al.. “Prevention of bone loss by phloridzin, an apple polyphenol, in ovariectomized rats under inflammation conditions.” Calcified Tissue International. Vol. 77, No. 5. 2005. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16307390

6 R Hardy, M S Cooper. “Bone loss in inflammatory disorders.” J Endocrinol June 1, 2009 201 309-320. Web. https://joe.endocrinology-journals.org/content/201/3/309.long

7 Laurent Léotoing. “The Polyphenol Fisetin Protects Bone by Repressing NF-κB and MKP-1-Dependent Signaling Pathways in Osteoclasts.” PLoS One. 2013; 8(7): e68388. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3701685/

8 Darshan S. Kelley, et al. “Sweet Bing Cherries Lower Circulating Concentrations of Markers for Chronic Inflammatory Diseases in Healthy Humans.” The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 143, Issue 3, 1 March 2013, Pages 340–344. Web. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/143/3/340/4571566

9 Ardawi MM, et al. “Lycopene treatment against loss of bone mass, microarchitecture and strength in relation to regulatory mechanisms in a postmenopausal osteoporosis model.” Bone. 2016 Feb;83:127-140. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26549245

10 Fielding JM et al., Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Increases in plasma lycopene concentration after consumption of tomatoes cooked with olive oil.” 2005. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15927929

11 Joshua F. Alfaro, et al. “Studies on the Mechanism of Aldehyde Oxidase and Xanthine Oxidase.” J Org Chem. 2008 Dec 5; 73(23): 9469–9472. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2765548/

12 Tomas Landete-Castillejos. Alternative hypothesis for the origin of osteoporosis: The role of Mn.” Frontiers in Bioscience, 2012; E4 (1): 1385. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22201963

13 Mohammad Yasir, Sattwik Das, and M. D. Kharya. ”The phytochemical and pharmacological profile of Persea americana Mill.” Pharmacogn Rev. 2010 Jan-Jun; 4(7): 77–84. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249906/#!po=73.5294

14 Balachandran, Rao, Murray. “Polyphenols in the extract of greens+ herbal preparation have effects on cell proliferation and differentiation of human osteoblast cell line SaOS-2”. American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. (2004)

15 Lucas, Dr. Edralin A., et al. “Effects of Mango on Bone Parameters in Mice Fed High Fat Diet.” Nutritional Sciences Department, Oklahoma State University. PDF. Web. https://www.mango.org/media/89162/bone_research_animal_study_final_report.pdf

16 Welch, A., et al. “Habitual flavonoid intakes are positively associated with bone mineral density in women.” Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. 2012 Sep;27(9): 1872-8 doi: 10.1002/jbmr. 1649. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22549983

17 Meydani, S.N., Leka, L.S., Fine, B.C., et al. “Vitamin E and respiratory tract infections in elderly nursing home residents: a randomized controlled trial.” Journal of the American Medical Association. 2004. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15315997

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Comments on this article are closed.

  1. Helen Walker

    Perhaps Vivian could comment in regard to Pam Martus’ suggestion to add baking soda to vegetable washing water? I would hesitate to do this, as it is known that adding baking soda to the cooking water causes nutrients to be leeched from the vegetables.

  2. Isabel Anaya

    Vivian, Thank you so much for the information. It’s very helpful. I wash my veggies and fruits with water and vinager.

  3. Debby4576

    I remember reading about a bird rescue that lost have the flock when it fed them grapes.

  4. Annabelle

    Thank you for the list which is very helpful – like all your very informative articles.

  5. Jo Collins

    Thank you for all the info I receive on saving my bones. One question I have is about the dirty dozen, would it be better to buy frozen or would that mean less nutrients?

  6. Marlene

    Good morning Vivian,
    EXCELLENT ! Thank you for sharing these valuable
    information, I truly appreciated it. Your Bone Appe’tit
    cookbook has been very helpful as well.
    Vivian, you are right ” EAT WELL TO BE WELL. ”

    Have a wonderful day.


    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      You are welcome, Marlene!

  7. Valerie

    What about blueberries? I imagine they would fall under the “buy organic” category. Thank you for this very informative list that’s easy to use! I recently started buying organic strawberries and noticed something immediately. They smell and taste like strawberries!

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Hi Valerie,

      It’s amazing how much better organic foods smell and taste, isn’t it? As for blueberries, the EWG has this to say on their website:

      “You may have noticed that blueberries haven’t been ranked by EWG, even on our full list of 47 types of produce. That’s because the USDA program from which we take our raw data has only released one year’s testing results for blueberries. That’s just not enough data for us to analyze.”

      In the absence of enough data, I’d recommend choosing organic blueberries. 🙂

      • Valerie

        Thank you, Vivian!

  8. Lin Fox

    Unfortunately organic produce is hard to find in the UK

  9. Carolyn McFarland

    Life-changing information for me! Thank you so very much!

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      You’re more than welcome, Carolyn!

  10. Hester

    Hi Vivian
    Thanks so much for this article. That was very informative. Hester

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      You’re welcome, Hester! I always find the EWG’s yearly list of “dirty” and “clean” produce very helpful.

  11. PamMartus

    I saw this article on Facebook yesterday. Pertinent to yours, regarding cleaning produce with water and baking soda.


  12. Kimberly

    I have heard that soaking produce in iodine water for an hour removes the toxins. Has anyone heard differently?

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Hi Kimberly,

      There are actually lots of suggestions out there for removing pesticide from produce, some more effective than others; but that misses the point somewhat. 😉 Even if there were a wash that took off 100% of pesticide residue, it would not change the fact that the farmers are putting these chemicals onto their crops and thus into the surrounding environment by the ton.

      In addition, conventionally grown produce is not as nutritious as organically grown, no matter how much it’s washed. A big part of the reason is that organically grown produce is given the chance to generate its own defense systems against pests. Those defense systems translate into more antioxidants and healthful plant chemicals for us!

      • Kimberly

        I read this shaking my head. How did we ever get to this point? It is people like you that shed light, help, and education on healthy habits. Happy day! Thanks for your dedication.

        • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

          You are welcome, Kimberly! Keep learning. 😀

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