Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen of 2018

In May the Environmental Working Group (EWG) published the 2018 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tested thousands of conventionally grown produce for pesticide residue. They found that 70% of the produce was contaminated with 230 different pesticides and pesticide breakdowns (1)! That is wild! If buying 100% of your fruits and vegetables organic is not possible, these lists can help guide you toward which foods to prioritize.

Dirty Dozen

The most pesticide residues identified.

I encourage you to buy organic.

Strawberries *
Spinach *
Nectarines *
Apples *
Peaches *
Cherries *
Sweet bell peppers

* More than 98% of these tested positive for more than one pesticide residue.

Spinach had 1.8x as much pesticide residue comparatively

Clean Fifteen

Few, if any, pesticide residues identified.

Less of a priority to buy organic.

Sweet corn
Pineapples *
Cabbages *
Onions *
Frozen sweet peas
Papayas *
Asparagus *

* More than 80% had no pesticide residue

Why do we care?

Pesticides are toxic and influence our health in the worst of ways. One of the most commonly used pesticides are the organophosphate insecticides. Organophosphate insecticides are classified as highly toxic and are used for insect control in lots of different food crops (2). In 2016 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) stated that approximately 40 different organophosphate insecticides are registered for use in the United States (2). Human exposure can occur by ingesting contaminated crops and from hand-to-mouth contact with surfaces. It is efficiently absorbed and (like most toxins) are fat soluble. Fat soluble means they are stored in our fat cells (3)! Exposure can alter our nervous system, muscular action or incoordination, respiratory function, sensory and behavioral disturbances, and depress our motor function (3). Long-term effects can occur following acute or massive exposures and can cause symptoms including depression, memory and concentration problems, irritability, persistent headaches and motor weakness (3).

How to begin limiting pesticide exposure

  •  Eat organic if possible
  •  Shop local or at farmers markets
  • Use the Dirty 12 and Clean 15 as a guide
  • Wash your produce really well
  • If you plant your own produce, use organic soil
  • If you spray your own produce, use natural insecticides

Helpful and informative resources

Find restaurants, farms, and markets with local and sustainable food

Maps of local farms, farmers markets, food co-ops, farm stands, and events

Resources for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

National Farmers Market Directory


1. Lunder, S. (2018, April 10). EWG’s 2018 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Retrieved from https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php

2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, December 23). Biomonitoring Summary: Organophosphorus Insecticides: Dialkyl Phosphate Metabolites. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/OP-DPM_BiomonitoringSummary.html

3. Environmental Protection Agency. (2013). Organophosphate Insecticides. In EPA 6th edition. Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/rmpp_6thed_ch5_organophosphates.pdf

How to Lower Cortisol With Acts of Indulgence

We have to approach stress management in a holistic manner, taking into account the magnitude of its impact on our entire body. The brain is the central organ for stress and stress’s starting point. It goes on to impact the neural, cardiovascular, autonomic, immune and metabolic systems (soo, everything!) in an acute or chronic way (aka short- or long-term). Now let’s add on the additional impact of our own personal behaviors like our diet, sleep quality, and toxic burden. It’s no wonder that our body has to have so many mediators/helpers that are involved in our stress response! A particularly important stress mediator is the hormone cortisol.

Cortisol 101

Cortisol is a steroid hormone (a glucocorticoid) produced in our adrenal glands from cholesterol. It plays a very vital role in our survival system, or as you may have heard of it, the “fight-or-flight” response. The fight-or-flight response/our stress response protects our bodies in perceived stressful or dangerous situations. Cortisol signals the body to do a bunch of things to help us, at the expense of other body processes that are not required for immediate survival (this is a very shortened version of a complex hormonal symphony). This process is protective and very important, yet with our current high-stress lifestyles  – we’re in this constant cortisol overdrive and our poor bodies are suffering the consequences.

Put simply: back in our caveman days, the stress response of our bodies saved us from truly dangerous situations (like a saber tooth tiger attacking us). The problem is our bodies cannot tell the difference between the stress of running from a lion or meeting your work deadline or breaking up with your boyfriend. This is causing our bodies to be in fight-or-flight mode on a more frequent basis and allowing for the constant release of cortisol into our bloodstream.

Health Implications for Chronically Elevated Cortisol

  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes
  • Belly fat storage
  • Increased hunger
  • Susceptibility to colds/illness
  • Increased cancer risk
  • Tendency toward food allergies
  • Indigestion
  • Intestinal absorption issues
  • Ulcers
  • High blood pressure
  • Arterial plaque buildup
  • Increased cardiovascular risk
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Disrupted ovulation
  • Disrupted menstrual cycles
  • Altered sex hormone production
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Dementia
  • Depression

Action Steps

Elevated cortisol levels are synonymous with systemic inflammation (our whole bodies become inflamed). We can take different approaches to naturally decrease inflammation, minimize stress, and therefore decrease cortisol levels. Anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle factors (a massive topic in itself) and other forms of stress management are all effective ways to manage cortisol’s negative impacts.

An indulgent way to manage stress is by practicing regular self-care.

Self-care is one of many effective stress management tools, therefore it reduces cortisol levels. It is defined as the care of oneself without medical, professional, or other assistance/oversight. This means we have total control!

Self-care can be simple daily acts of kindness to yourself or health.

  • Make a gratitude list
  • Start journaling
  • Move your body, be active
  • Eat nourishing foods
  • Meditate for 5 minutes
  • Allow moments of stillness to “be”
  • Dry brush your body
  • Make a cup of tea
  • Call a loved one
  • Use essential oils
  • Have time outdoors or with plants
  • Use non-toxic beauty products
  • Drink plenty of water

Or more indulgent weekly or bi-weekly acts of self-care.

  • Do a face or hair mask
  • Take an Epsom salt bath
  • Try Reiki or another healing energy modality
  • Spend quality time with a loved one
  • Try an infrared sauna or other therapies
  • Go to a local farmers market
  • Go to a new restaurant or store
  • Get (or give yourself) a massage
  • Get (or give yourself) a non-toxic facial
  • Buy yourself fresh flowers
  • Use non-toxic home products

Lowering cortisol is an expansive topic, with so many things we can cover. Self-care is a small, yet mighty, tool to have incorporated into your life to begin taking control of managing stress and lowering the cortisol levels in your body.


McEwen, B. (2009, April 7). Central effects of stress hormones in health and disease: understanding the protective and damaging effects of stress and stress mediators. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2474765/

Aronson, D. (2009, November). Cortisol- Its Role in Stress, Inflammation, and Indications for Diet Therapy. Today’s Dietitian, 38. Retrieved from http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/111609p38.shtml

5 Areas to Optimize Adrenal Health

Changes in sleep, energy, mood, weight, and cognition could all be signs that your adrenal glands need a little attention and TLC.

The adrenal glands are endocrine glands that sit on top of our kidneys. They are an essential part of an adaptive system that regulates our response to stress. When the brain signals the adrenals, they release certain hormones (like cortisol) and neurotransmitters that initiate a variety of physiological responses.

Persistent stress can increase our risk for adrenal dysfunction. This can wreak havoc on our health and quality of life. Causes of stress may be physical, psychosocial, or emotional. Factors like toxin exposure, poor diet, and insufficient sleep will put stress on our bodies. Symptoms include daily fatigue, anxiety, struggling with weight, persistent illness, difficulty concentrating, disturbed sleep and mood swings. It’s worth noting that these symptoms can be compounded even more by genetics and lifestyle, such as nutrition and physical activity.

Five Areas To Focus On For Optimal Adrenal Health

Good Sleep Hygiene

Reduce artificial light exposure. Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom and do not read from a backlit device (iPad, iPhone, Kindles) at night. Promote a positive sleep environment with a quiet, dark, and cool bedroom. Use calming essential oils like lavender. Keep a regular bedtime and do not watch the clock. It could also help to limit caffeine late in the day, avoid alcohol and big or spicy meals before bed. It helps to minimize liquid intake about an hour before bedtime.

Sufficient Nutrients

Eat a variety of whole foods to make sure you have plenty of critical nutrients – fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients. Consider individual (yet influential) factors such as soil quality, pesticide content, genetic single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), methods of cooking, and your body’s ability for absorption. If appropriate assess micronutrient status and supplement accordingly while working with a health provider.

An Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Clean out the “junk.” Particularly added sugars, caffeine, and processed foods. In short – eat high-quality whole foods and more plants. Control blood sugars by eating carbohydrates that are high in fiber and low on the glycemic index. Sweet potatoes, barley, quinoa, and rolled oats all are excellent options. Combine your slow-burning carbs with healthy proteins or fats. This includes foods such as legumes, poultry, or fish. Get more healthy fats from high-quality sources like oily fish, olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds. Lastly, cut down on poor quality saturated fats, trans fats, and omega 6 oils. Assess for potential unidentified and underlying food sensitivities.

Proactive Stress Management

My belief is that we cannot control what happens to us, but we can control our reaction and how we label it (positive, negative). Engage regularly in stress management techniques. Prioritize your mental health and the construction of an uplifting and positive support system. Lowering or managing stress levels will help regulate hormones and lessen stress and negative impact on the adrenal glands.

Consider Supplementing With Herbs and Adaptogens

Calming herbs like chamomile, lemon balm, valerian, skullcap, and passionflower can help sleep and anxiety. Meanwhile, adaptogens help stress and energy levels by supporting our adrenals. A few adaptogens include turmeric, medicinal mushrooms (chaga, reishi, king oyster), ashwagandha, rhodiola, holy basil, pine pollen, schisandra, Asian Ginseng, and licorice root. Work with a qualified health provider (like me!) or experienced herbalist to assess safety, quality, dosing, and monitoring.