The most common way people are exposed to pesticides is through the fruits and vegetables they consume. Crops get sprayed with pesticides in the field and then these chemicals land on the produce that eventually makes its way to your kitchen. Washing fruits and vegetables can help some, but since these toxins are often taken up by the root and into the plant itself, washing alone won’t eliminate the risk.
Avoiding pesticides by buying organic produce
The best way to avoid pesticide exposure from fruits and vegetables is simply to buy organic produce. A 2008 analysis found that by choosing organic produce across the board you can reduce pesticide exposure from food by about 97%. (Benbrook et al., 2008) Another study found organophosphate metabolite levels were undetectable in children’s urine once they switched to an organic diet. (Lu et al., 2006)
Fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides
Imported fruits and vegetables at the supermarket typically have the highest concentration of worrisome pesticides. Among the worst fruits are grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, strawberries, cherries, cantaloupe, and apples. Among vegetables sweet bell peppers, lettuce, cucumbers, celery, tomatoes, green beans, broccoli, peas, and carrots are some of the worst. (Benbrook, 2008) Things like cantaloupe and watermelon are often some of the most toxic, because they draw pesticides up into the flesh of the fruit at much higher concentrations.
More recently, the Environmental Working Group tested a variety of produce according to measures such as how many of the samples contained detectable pesticides, the number of pesticides they contained, and the average concentrate by parts per million. From these tests they came up with a list of what they called the “dirty dozen” in terms of pesticides:
The produce with the highest amount of pesticides
The “dirty dozen” with the most pesticides were:
- Sweet bell peppers
- Kale/collard greens
Produce with the lowest amount of pesticides
They also determined that some of the best fruits and vegetables in terms of pesticide contamination were:
- Sweet peas
- Sweet potatoes
If a person eats 5 fruit or vegetable servings from the “dirty dozen” list, this would expose them to an average of 14 different pesticides daily. Meanwhile, choosing 5 from the clean list would expose them to fewer than two on average. Many fruits and vegetables were almost completely devoid of pesticides. Fewer than 10% of pineapple, mango and avocado samples showed pesticides. Among vegetables, more than 90% of asparagus, corn and onion samples were pesticide free.
The study found that by choosing 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day from the clean list, this alone would lower the amount of daily pesticides consumed by 92%. (Lloyd, 6-13-2011) So you can see how making a few modifications to your consumption habits can vastly diminish the amount of pesticides your family is exposed to. This doesn’t mean you need to abandon your favorite foods, just try to buy them organically or avoid eating them as often.