Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is super important for staying healthy but like many people, you might be worried about the health risks from pesticides.
Pesticides are a big problem with non organic food and that can be really bad news from a health perspective. High exposure to pesticides and other toxins from our food has been linked to fertility problems and even cancer.
In the 2018 Dirty Dozen report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), there was evidence of pesticides or contamination with pesticides in a lot of the non organic produce tested and some produce had high numbers.
It’s not all bad news … there’s also a Clean 15 that puts you on safer ground when it comes to toxins. But as you’ll see from the Dirty Dozen, it definitely pays to go organic with a lot of your fruit and veggies!
The Dirty Dozen
So, what are the worst offenders when it comes to pesticides? These fruits and vegetables didn’t come out of it very well in the EWG’s 2018 Dirty Dozen report:
Strawberries - I LOVED strawberries growing up and it makes me sick thinking of all the chemicals I ingested. There were a whopping 22 different pesticides in one sample of strawberries. Even worse, roughly 20% of the strawberries contained 10 or more pesticides. Some of these include carbendazim (a probable hormone disruptor, especially for males, which is banned by the European Union on safety grounds) and bifenthrin (a possible carcinogenic). As well as pesticides, the EWG highlights that strawberry fields tend to also be sprayed with poisonous fumigants that kill bugs and, sterilize the soil. Some started out as chemical warfare gases!
Spinach - Spinach was found to be full of pesticide residue - 97% of the spinach tested had pesticides or pesticide residue. Mold and mildew killers, bug killers, permethrin (an insecticide linked to ADHD in kids, even at fairly low levels) and DDT are just a few of the nasties that were highlighted. The “dirtiest” spinach sample contained 18 different pesticides or pesticide residue. Spinach is pretty affordable, so no excuses here!
Nectarines - Almost 94% of nectarines tested contained at least two different pesticides, and one sample had 15. Bummer!
Apples - 90% of apples tested contained pesticides or pesticide residue. Diphenylamine (which is banned in Europe) was also found in 80% of samples. Wash them well and peel them! BUT some of the chemicals can still get through the skin.
Peaches - Over 99% of peaches tested positive for pesticides, with an average of 4 different ones. Hmmm...hopefully this doesn't include Chambersburg peaches because they are so darn good.
Pears - Nearly half of the pears tested had 5 or more pesticides. These included carbendazim (a suspected hormone disruptor), diphenylamine (a potential carcinogenic) and acetamiprid (which is often used to kill bees). It is crazy that chemicals that kill bees would be used on produce. Seems ironic, doesn't it?
Cherries - On average, there were five different pesticides found in cherries. One of these was iprodione, a potentially carcinogenic pesticide that is banned in Europe. We are a big cherry household when they are in season and I am so thankful that the prices have decreased in our area of the past couple of years to make them more affordable. Cherries are one of my faves! You can always opt for frozen organic cherries.
Grapes - Over 96% of the grapes tested had either pesticides or pesticide residue. The average number of pesticides found was five. I only purchase grapes that are organic. There are few things I dislike more than the awful pesticide coating on non-organic grapes. Gross!
Celery - Over 95% of the celery tested was found to contain pesticides or had been contaminated with pesticides. This is like drinking pesticide loaded water. Celery is cheap guys, just buy organic!
Tomatoes - The average tomato sample contained four different pesticides. One sample was found to have 15 pesticides. We aren't a family that consumes a ton of tomatoes so thankfully this one doesn't bother me much. However, organic tomatoes do have better flavor and are worth the splurge for a fresh salad, especially caprese! Yum!
Sweet Bell Peppers - Nearly 90% of sweet bell peppers tested had pesticide residue. We love the organic minis! Thankfully Aldi makes these affordable.
Potatoes - On a weight for weight basis, potatoes were found to have more pesticide contamination than any other produce. The chemicals found in non-organic potatoes potentially cause infertility. We don't eat a lot of potatoes but when we do they are strictly organic.
The Clean 15
There is some good news: not all of your fresh produce is quite so likely to be loaded with nasties. It varies a bit but some of the produce from the Clean 15 list hardly contained any pesticides at all.
Avocado - Avocado was one of the least contaminated produce items in the EWG report - less than 1% of what was tested was found to have pesticide residue. A total of 360 avocados were tested and only one type of pesticide was found. Good thing, because these suckers are pricey enough let alone having to buy organic avocados. I am thankful these are on the clean list!
Sweet corn - Along with avocado, sweet corn was one of the lesser culprits for pesticides. Less than 2% of the sweet corn tested was found to have pesticides. Now if only we didn't have to worry about GMOs.
Pineapples - 90% of the pineapples tested had no pesticides or pesticide residue. There were only 5 different pesticides found across all of the samples. Pineapple is a go to for my smoothies and I use a LOT of it on a weekly basis. So hooray for being clean!
Cabbage - Out of 700 cabbage samples, only two were found to have more than one type of pesticide, and 86% didn’t have any pesticides at all. Love this because cabbage is a staple in our home for coleslaw and other chopped salads!
Onions - None of the onion samples had more than three pesticides, and over 90% didn’t contain any pesticides. Too bad that doesn't make you cry any less when cutting them!
Sweet peas (frozen) - Around 80% of the frozen sweet peas tested didn’t feature any pesticides or pesticide residue. None of the sweet pea samples had more than two pesticides. Whew hew for clean peas because they are my son's favorite vegetable (right now at least)!
Papayas - 750 papaya samples were tested and none contained more than three pesticides. Roughly 80% of the papayas tested had no pesticide residue. Papaya is a go to for our family to switch up our fruit selection. Plus, they are easy to peel and cut. BUT to be honest, the seeds inside kinda weird me out. =D
Asparagus - 90% of the asparagus samples tested had no pesticide residue and none of them contained more than three pesticides. Gotta get them greens!
Mangos - 78% of the mangos tested had no pesticides and none contained more than two pesticides. I wish I could have a mango tree!
Eggplant - Around 75% of the eggplants tested had no pesticide residue and none contained more than two pesticides. Good thing! If you haven't tried eggplant 'meatballs' yet, do it!
Kiwi - 65% of the kiwis tested had no pesticides and maximum of six different pesticides were found across all of the samples.
Cantaloupe - Only 10% of cantaloupe samples contained more than one pesticide and over 60% contained none. This makes our family happy!
Cauliflower - Roughly half of the cauliflower samples had no pesticides.
Broccoli - 70% of the broccoli samples tested had no pesticides. Around 10% had more than one pesticide. Sign me up for some broccoli cauliflower salad!
Honeydew - Roughly half of the honeydew tested contained no pesticides. None had more than four pesticides.
What about washing and peeling produce?
Washing your produce gets rid of a few pesticides but it’s not a perfect solution, especially for the Dirty Dozen. Some pesticides can get inside the produce itself and no amount of washing can tackle that!
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1 1/2 cups filtered water
3 TBSP lemon juice
1. Mix ingredients in a large bowl to soak or spray on vegetables and let sit for 2 minutes.
2. Rinse well and enjoy!
2 cups filtered water
1/2 cup lemon juice
1. Place fruit in a bowl and spray with the lemon solution, coating the fruit well.
2. Let sit for 1 minute.
3. Cover fruit with filtered water and soak for 15 minutes.4. Rinse well and dry completely if storing fruit.
Your best bet? Choose organic produce as much as you can, especially where the Dirty Dozen are concerned.
DISCLAIMER: The information presented is not intended to take the place of your personal physician’s advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions.