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 2019 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 2019 Dirty Dozen report:
Strawberries – 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.
Kale – while it may still be considered a super food, kale took third place on this year’s “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residue. This year, more than 92% of kale samples tested had two or more pesticide residues detected, and a single sample could have up to 18 different residues
Nectarines – Almost 94% of nectarines tested contained at least two different pesticides, and one sample had 15.
Apples – 90% of apples tested contained pesticides or pesticide residue. Diphenylamine (which is banned in Europe) was also found in 80% of samples.
Grapes – Over 96% of the grapes tested had either pesticides or pesticide residue. The average number of pesticides found was five.
Peaches – Over 99% of peaches tested positive for pesticides, with an average of 4 different ones.
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.
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).
Celery – Over 95% of the celery tested was found to contain pesticides or had been contaminated with pesticides.
Tomatoes – The average tomato sample contained four different pesticides. One sample was found to have 15 pesticides.
Potatoes – On a weight for weight basis, potatoes were found to have more pesticide contamination than any other produce.
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.
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.
Pineapples – 90% of the pineapples tested had no pesticides or pesticide residue. There were only 5 different pesticides found across all of the samples.
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.
Onions – None of the onion samples had more than three pesticides, and over 90% didn’t contain any pesticides.
Papayas – 750 papaya samples were tested and none contained more than three pesticides. Roughly 80% of the papayas tested had no pesticide residue.
Eggplant – Around 75% of the eggplants tested had no pesticide residue and none contained more than two pesticides.
Asparagus – 90% of the asparagus samples tested had no pesticide residue and none of them contained more than three pesticides.
Kiwi – 65% of the kiwis tested had no pesticides and maximum of six different pesticides were found across all of the samples.
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.
Cauliflower – Roughly half of the cauliflower samples had no pesticides.
Cantaloupe – Only 10% of cantaloupe samples contained more than one pesticide and over 60% contained none.
Broccoli – 70% of the broccoli samples tested had no pesticides. Around 10% had more than one pesticide.
Mushrooms – Mushrooms made the Clean 15 list, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely pesticide-free. What’s On My Food found 14 pesticides on the mushrooms tested.
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!
Your best bet? Choose organic produce as much as you can, especially where the Dirty Dozen are concerned.
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