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. Researchers at the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested these top offenders and dubbed them "the Dirty Dozen." For these 12 foods, the EWG recommends avoiding pesticide residue by choosing organic versions.
Conventional apples are sprayed with 36 types of pesticides, and the EWG found that 91percent 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.
Organic cherries are the healthy choice: 25 types of pesticides were found on 91percent of conventional cherries tested by the EWG. Organic cherries are a storehouse of vitamins C, B complex, potassium, and antioxidants. Research has shown that cherry consumption can help prevent heart disease and cancer, as well as provide pain relief and improve bone health.
Imported grapes run a much greater risk of contamination than those grown domestically. Vineyards are sprayed with 35 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.
Researchers found 26 different pesticides on nearly all of 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.
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
Researchers found 35 different pesticides on 94 percent of conventional pears tested. Pears promote cardiovascular and colon health, protect against macular degeneration and postmenopausal breast cancer, and are recommended by healthcare practitioners as a hypoallergenic fruit. Put organic pears on your shopping list!
Some 39 pesticides were found on 59 percent of the conventional raspberries tested. But there are good reasons to purchase organic raspberries when you see them. Raspberries possess almost 50 percent higher antioxidant activity than strawberries, three times that of kiwis, and ten times that of tomatoes. Raspberries also have cancer-protective properties and unique antimicrobial properties. Consuming these berries can prevent the overgrowth of certain bacteria and fungi in the body (including the frequent culprit in vaginal infections and irritable bowel syndrome).
Conventional strawberries are the single most pesticide-contaminated type of produce in the United States. They receive up to 500 pounds of pesticides per acre. Researchers found 36 types of pesticides on 90 percent 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.
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 40 different pesticides were found on 68 percent of bell peppers 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.
Celery has no protective skin, and it's just about impossible to wash off the 29 different chemicals that are 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.
America's most popular vegetable ranks highest for pesticide residue, and may also be tainted by fungicides. Nearly 30 pesticides were found on 79 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, copper, potassium, and manganese. It offers significant protection against cardiovascular disease and cancer.
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 eyesight, increases energy, and helps prevent osteoporosis and arthritis. Make it a regular part of your family's diet.