The leafy green made the list for the first time in a decade.

By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD
Updated: March 21, 2019
Photo: Veja / Shutterstock

The superfood that you just got used to eating (and massaging) made the top of the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) 2019 Dirty Dozen list this week. Kale took the third spot on the list, making its first appearance in a decade. So is it time to ditch the leafy green and start adding something else to your smoothies, salads, and stir-fries? Probably not, and here's why. (Related: The Most Common Types of Kale and How to Cook with Them)

First things first: The EWG's analysis found that over 92 percent of kale samples had "two or more pesticide residues detected, and a single sample could contain up to 18 different residues," according to a press release from the organization. "The most frequently detected pesticide, found on nearly 60 percent of kale samples, was Dacthal, or DCPA-classified by the Environmental Protection Agency since 1995 as a possible human carcinogen, and prohibited for use in Europe since 2009."

Obviously, that sounds really bad, but Carl Winter, Ph.D., toxicologist at the University of California, Davis, told the Alliance for Food and Farming (a nonprofit organization comprising both organic and conventional farmers) that the EWG's methodology for testing the produce is arbitrary. "To accurately assess consumer risks from pesticides, one needs to consider three major factors: 1. the amount of residue on the foods, 2. the amount of food consumed, and 3. the toxicity of the pesticides. "The methodology used by EWG ignores all three," said Winter. Plus, a paper in the Journal of Toxicology examined EWG's list and found that exposures to the most commonly detected pesticides pose very little health risks, and eating organic forms of produce in place of conventional forms doesn't reduce those risks. And if that's not enough to convince you, the FDA says washing your produce under running tap water usually removes or eliminates any existing residues on organic and conventionally grown produce-because yes, even organic produce has (organic) pesticides. (Related: Holy Sh*t, Apparently, We Should All Be Washing Our Avocados)

Hopefully this evidence helps to ease your fears so you can get back on the kale train. But if it doesn't, consider this impressive stat from The Alliance for Food and Farming: Toxicologists with the University of California's Personal Chemical Exposure program used data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Pesticide Residue Calculator to assess how much kale you would have to eat in a day to be at risk of harm from pesticides. They concluded that if a man ate 26,061 servings, a woman 18,615 servings, a teenager 14,892 servings, and a child 7,746 servings in a day, they still wouldn't experience any negative health effects from pesticide residues. I don't know about you, but my general serving is around 2 cups, so just a little less than 18k+ servings.

Let's also not forget that kale has earned the title "superfood" because of its impressive nutrient profile. Just one cup of raw chopped kale has 30 calories, 3 grams of protein, 2.5 grams of fiber, 133 percent daily value (DV) vitamin A, 134 percent DV vitamin C, 10 percent DV calcium, 5 percent DV iron, 10 percent DV vitamin B6, and 7 percent DV magnesium-not to mention it's rich in antioxidants. Plus, only one in 10 Americans eat the recommended amount of fruits and veggies each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and negative messages about produce don't help. A recent study found that messaging about organic produce being healthier than its conventional counterpart can cause people to eat fewer fruits and vegetables overall and miss out on important nutrients. (Related: The #1 Trick to See If You Should Buy Organic Produce) So really, kale's spot on the EWG's Dirty Dozen list shouldn't leave a bad taste in your mouth.

"Both conventional and organic fruits and vegetables, including kale, are safe and healthy options," says Tamika Sims, Ph.D., director of food technology communications at the International Food Information Council Foundation. "People who stop eating fruits and veggies based on this list are avoiding foods that make up a healthy diet. In addition, if you do not have access or cannot afford to buy organic foods, there's no reason to skip on conventionally grown produce." If after all this you still want my two cents as a registered dietitian, it's this: Eat the kale, or whatever veggies you gravitate toward. If you can afford and want to buy organic, go for it, but don't let that stop you from getting enough veggies on your plate, period.

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