Pesticides help protect crops by warding off damaging weeds, diseases, and bugs, but they also leave a residue on our produce. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, certain fruits and vegetables consistently carry much higher levels of pesticide residue than others, even after washing. Originally dubbed "The Dirty Dozen," the list of the top offenders has grown to 14 fruits and vegetables. Researchers at the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommend avoiding pesticide residue by choosing organic versions of these 14 foods. Print out our handy list to take along with you to the grocery store.
The EWG found that 98 percent of tested apples were contaminated. Even peeling a conventional apple won't completely eliminate chemical residue, so it's best to buy organic. The two types of fiber in apples — soluble and insoluble — can reduce cholesterol levels and the risk of hardening of the arteries, heart attack, and stroke. Apples also keep blood sugar levels stable, and can help prevent kidney stones. Bonus: You'll find that organic apples taste sweeter than conventionally grown.
In conventional orchards, as many as 45 different pesticides are regularly applied to peaches. Researchers found contamination in 94 percent of the conventional peaches they tested. But what would summer be without peaches...and peach ice cream? Look for organic — or buy tangerines as a safe alternative.
Although chock-full of vitamins and low in calories, samples taken from cherry tomatoes tested positive for 13 different pesticides. Cooking them can help diminish the levels of these pesticides, but buying them organic is the safest route.
Conventional strawberries are among the most pesticide-contaminated type of produce in the U.S. They receive up to 500 pounds of pesticides per acre. Researchers found 13 types of pesticides on 90 pecent of the strawberries they tested. However, it's well worth seeking out organic strawberries for their heart-protective, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. In one study, strawberries topped a list of eight foods most linked to lower rates of cancer deaths among a group of over 1,000 elderly people. Strawberries also provide protection against macular degeneration and rheumatoid arthritis.
Researchers found pesticide residue on 100 percent of imported conventional nectarines tested. This is sad news for those who appreciate the fruit's smooth skin and intense flavor. Don't give them up — enjoy organic nectarines, which can help you avoid heart disease, macular degeneration, and cancer.
Imported grapes run a much greater risk of contamination than those grown domestically. Vineyards are sprayed with as many as 64 different pesticides. No amount of washing or peeling will eliminate contamination, because of the grape's thin, permeable skin. Seek organic domestic grapes and products made from them (such as wine and grape juice) for these health benefits: a decreased risk of heart disease and protection against high-fat diets.
Imported Snap Peas
Single samples of imported snap peas showed 13 different pesticides present. Opt for organic or domestic snap peas for the healthiest and safest option.
Pesticides were found on 96 percent of conventional celery samples. Celery has no protective skin, and it's just about impossible to wash off the chemicals used on conventional crops. Celery is an excellent source of vitamin C and can help to reduce high blood pressure. It's long been recognized for its diuretic activity — helping the body get rid of excess fluid — and for its cholesterol-lowering benefits. These days it's easy to find organic celery in most stores.
Peppers have thin skins that don't offer much of a barrier to pesticides, and they're one of the most heavily sprayed vegetables out there. Nearly 90 different pesticides were found on conventional bell peppers that were tested. Bell peppers come in bright green, red, orange, and yellow varieties, which are all rich sources of some of the best nutrients available. Regular consumption of this vegetable may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, improve your eyesight, protect against rheumatoid arthritis, and promote the health of your lungs.
Leafy greens are frequently contaminated with what are considered the most potent pesticides used on food. Some 36 different pesticides can be found on 86 percent of conventional spinach. However, there's a long list of health benefits conferred by organic spinach. It lowers the risk of colon, skin, breast, and ovarian cancers, and combats prostate cancer. It promotes brain functioning, improves eye health, increases energy, and helps prevent osteoporosis and arthritis. Make it a regular part of your family's diet.
Tests by the USDA found residues of three highly toxic insecticides on a portion of sampled peppers at concentrations high enough to cause concern. These insecticides are banned on some common crops but still allowed on hot peppers. When eating non-organic hot peppers, be sure to cook them properly to help lessen the amount of insecticides found on them.
Non-organic cucumbers that were tested had 81 different pesticide residues. Unfortunately, the cucumber peel — which contains much of its nutrients — is the most highly contaminated part. Pick up organic cucumbers instead. Raw cucumbers with the peel are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and potassium.
Although kale and collard greens don't qualify for EWG's dirty dozen list under the traditional rating system, they are highlighted due to the high levels of extremely toxic pesticides found on them. Many of these toxic pesticides, such as organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, are no longer found on other produce due to legal restrictions or voluntary phase-outs, but are either still allowed to be used on these leafy greens, or are still found in the soil used to grow them. If you aren't able to find organic kale or collard greens, cooking them helps to diminish the levels found on the produce.
Nearly 30 pesticides were found on 91 percent of conventional potatoes tested. Many people consider potatoes fattening, but take away deep frying and added fat, and the organic potato is a low-calorie, high-fiber source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and manganese. It offers significant protection against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Conventional sweet potatoes are another healthful starch option — landing on the EWG's "Clean 15" list of fruits and veggies with minimal pesticide use.
Print out our handy list of the Dirty Dozen to take along with you to the grocery store.