Can’t afford to always buy organic? No problem. Turns out certain types of produce are better at fending off pesticides—15 kinds to be exact. Dubbed the “Clean 15” by the Environmental Working Group, these fruits and vegetables were selected based on their levels of pesticide contamination (the higher the ranking, the less contamination), which means you can buy organic where it makes the most impact—meat, milk and produce on the Dirty Dozen list—and stick to conventional produce elsewhere. Click through to learn why these 15 fruits and veggies are considered “clean,” and to find a new way to prepare them.
Thanks to all of those lovely outer layers, onions show the least amount of pesticide residue, putting them at the top of the clean-to-eat list. Low in calories and high in vitamin C, onions can be eaten raw—with all their spicy pungency intact—or cooked down until sweet and soft. Try them piled on a grilled steak sandwich or with roasted cauliflower.
It just wouldn’t be summer without corn on the cob, and fortunately, this veggie holds its own against pesticides, ranking at No. 2, with 90% of samples exhibiting no detectable pesticide residue. A good source of fiber, vitamins B1 and B5 and beta-carotene, its delicately sweet flavor is terrific as a treat— say, as corn fritters drizzled with honey—or made into a creamy side dish for spicy skirt steak.
Pineapples might just be the ultimate deceiver: thorny and rough on the outside, while unbelievably pliable and sweet inside. At No. 3 on the list—with fewer than 10% of samples showing detectable pesticides—it’s a great source of vitamin C as well as bromelain, a natural anti-inflammatory. It also boasts an amazing flavor that plays well with smoky, savory ingredients; try it in a ham and mozzarella sandwich or with blackened salmon and rice.
Who needs artery-clogging mayo when you can have avocado? Ranking No. 4 on the list, it’s one of the least likely fruits to test positive for pesticide residue— and contains a plethora of nutrients (B vitamins and vitamin K) and healthy monounsaturated fats. Use it as a meat alternative in a Mexican-inspired black bean wrap or in a cool side salad for chicken enchiladas.
There’s a lot to love about this crunchy vegetable. Not only is it one of the lowest-ranking for pesticides—No. 5 on the list, with no detectable residue found on 90 percent or more of samples—but it’s also an excellent source of folic acid. Let its flavor shine by simply roasting it, with a splash of olive oil and lemon, or folding it into a creamy shrimp risotto.
They may be petite, but sweet peas boast plenty of health benefits. Coming in at No. 6 on the list (77% of samples had no detectible pesticides), they’re a nutritional powerhouse filled with phytonutrients (known to have antioxidant properties), folate, fiber and vitamins A, C and K. Although tasty on their own, they’re an excellent way to add color and texture to savory dishes like lamb chops with mint or creamy pasta with leeks and Parmesan.
Mangoes are the quintessential tropical fruit, with a sweet flesh that’s equally delicious in main dishes and desserts. At No. 7 on the list, fewer than 10% of the samples tested showed detectable pesticides. An excellent source of vitamins A and C, try it in a frothy smoothie with pineapple and peach, or as a cool contrast to spicy chipotle pork tenderloin.
One of the vegetables least likely to test positive for pesticides, eggplant registers at No. 8 on the list. Despite its naturally high sodium content, it’s still a healthy pick, chockful of body-boosting vitamin B6, potassium and phytonutrients. Its unique texture holds up well to a variety of cooking methods: try it grilled in a hearty hero sandwich, or covered in mozzarella when prepared in a classic Italian dish.
At No. 9 on the list, domestically-grown cantaloupe is one of the least likely fruits to test positive for pesticide residues. It’s also refreshing, replete with vitamins A and C, and delicious when paired with savory flavors that bring out its sweetness. Toss it with salty prosciutto and peppery arugula for a dinner salad, or create a light fruit salad with fresh thyme and lemon juice.
When craving a vitamin C boost, most people turn to oranges. But get ready for a surprise: cup for cup, kiwi fruit trumps oranges, offering 164mg of vitamin C versus 124mg. Ranked at No. 10 on the list, kiwis also provide an impressive range of phytonutrients—not to mention a slightly tart, mellow melon flavor that’s delectable in desserts. Slice and dice them into lighter desserts, like a creamy lemon tart or airy pudding parfait.
Sometimes cabbage gets written off as mere “roughage,” but it’s so much more! Ranking at No. 11, with nearly 82% of samples devoid of pesticides in tests, it provides a terrific crunchy texture to dishes and a healthy dose of vitamins C and K, and fiber. In summertime, shred it for a tangy, lowfat coleslaw; in cooler months, go Irish-style by boiling it in beer and serving it with corned beef.
Watermelon is a welcome treat in high temperatures, and you can practically eat it with abandon: a 1 3/4-cup serving only has 80 calories—not to mention that at No. 12, just 28% of samples show pesticide residue. Stocked with lycopene and vitamins A and C, use it for dinner, as a luscious counterpoint to salty cheese in a feta and arugula salad, and dessert, pureed with sugar and lime juice and then frozen for an a icy granita.
In recent years, sweet potatoes have become the darling of the root vegetable world. At No. 13 on the list (with less than 6% of samples containing multiple pesticides), these tubers—not to be confused with yams!—are a great source of beta-carotene, vitamins A and C, and manganese. High heat brings out their decadent caramel-like flavor; grill them on an open flame alongside cumin-rubbed pork chops or roast and top with Parmesan for a healthy take on potato skins.
Packed with vitamin C and lycopene (a type of phytonutrient), grapefruit ranks at No. 14 on the list (though nearly 55% of samples had detectable pesticides in testing, only 17.5% contained more than one). Bright and juicy, few foods are as delightfully complex; tart, tangy and sweet all at once, try it with mint and lime juice for a refreshing citrus salad, or paired with shrimp and avocado for a heartier lunchtime salad.
Although last on the list, mushrooms are still not very likely to test positive for pesticides—and they’re a mighty source of nutrients, packed with B vitamins, potassium, selenium and other minerals. Their meaty texture and earthy flavor make them a delectable addition to savory dishes such as pesto pizza with leeks or turkey-carrot meatloaf.