Which fruit and vegetables contain the most pesticides and what are the dangers?

Every year the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) 2018 produces a list of the "Dirty Dozen," fruit and vegetables that are contaminated most by pesticides. In 2018 a total of 230 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products were found.

Based on this EWG’s analysis, what are the health risks?

  • Strawberries were the worst affected containing 10 or more different pesticide residues. Many strawberries contained a chemical called carbendazim which disrupts hormones and can affect both male and female reproduction and fertility (1).
  • Bifenthrin; a chemical known to potentially cause cancer was detected in nearly 30% of strawberries.
  • Chlorpyrifos is a neurotoxic insecticide used, which has been found to affect a child’s brain and behaviour, and was more commonly found in apples, bell peppers, peaches and nectarines
  • High levels of permethrin, a chemical which kills lice was found in 76% of spinach samples. Low levels of this neurotoxin are linked to ADHD in kids (2) and higher levels have been found trigger tremors and seizures.

Top tips

If you’re eating organic foods, don’t assume they are free from pesticides… many organic products do contain pesticides that are typically made from more natural plant ingredients. However, they should be free from the more dangerous pesticides that can be damaging to health. Buying from a local farmer who doesn’t use any pesticides maybe one solution. Alternatively take the following steps:  

  • Eat locally grown produce where possible.
    • It’s very important to know where the food you purchase is grown. For example, China and even America use pesticides which have been banned from the European Union. Furthermore, the regulations in China are not so reliable… purchasing something named organic from China may not really be organic based on EU regulations.
    • Food transported long distances is not likely to be as nutritious as food which is grown and consumed locally (Harvard Medical School Center for Health and the Global Environment)
    • Washing, scrubbing and peeling fruit and vegetables
      • Wash all your fruit and vegetables, irrespective of whether they are organic, in luke warm water and try using a natural vegetable wash that can help remove some of the pesticide residues.
      • Either peel non-organic fruits and vegetables or firmly scrub them under running water. Remove the outer layer of leafy vegetables, like cabbage or lettuce (2).
      • Go organic when you can with at least the dirty dozen listed
        • Research links pesticides with many health symptoms including ADHD, autism, Parkinson’s and more.
        • Pesticides and chemicals not only kill weeds and bugs, but they also destroy the health of the soil, which contains vital minerals and beneficial microbes.
        • No pesticide is safe. The use of pesticides in Europe has not decreased. Although Portugal, Italy and Belgium are taking action to reduce their use, Netherlands, Germany and Spain have increased; and Spain has even doubled their use (3).

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.

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