Thursday, May 1, 2014

Organic vs conventional: EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce

Everyone always asks if I buy only organic produce.  The answer?  No! Not all fruits and vegetables are treated with the high levels of harmful pesticides, and thus, not all fruits and vegetables expose us to these harmful chemicals. 

Buying organic is so expensive that it really saves to have a clear idea of what fruits and veggies you should buy organic and which ones you can buy conventional.   This is why the Environmental Working Group’s yearly Shopper's Guide to Pesticides is so useful.  EWG  ranks pesticide contamination on 48 popular fruits and vegetables, based on their analysis of more than 32,000 samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and federal Food and Drug Administration.


Pesticides are a collective term for chemicals intended to kill unwanted insects, plants, molds, and rodents.  

The main way by which children encounter pesticides is through food.

Although the current levels of pesticide residue found in individual fruits and vegetables have been deemed safe by the EPA, the question still remains about the cumulative effects (ie:  my 4 year old son can eat an entire package of blueberries in a sitting and could eat a package a day), especially on young children and unborn babies being exposed through their mother’s diets.

According to the EPA ”Pesticides may harm a developing child by blocking the absorption of important food nutrients necessary for normal healthy growth. Another way pesticides may cause harm is if a child's excretory system is not fully developed, the body may not fully remove pesticides. Also, there are "critical periods" in human development when exposure to a toxin can permanently alter the way an individual's biological system operates.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics adds that “Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems (like ADHD, among others)”

To be clear: the benefits that come from eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweighs the potential risks of ingesting pesticides through them.  Organic fruits and vegetables do not have more nutrients than non organic produce- however if you can avoid exposing your family to bug and weed killers on a daily basis choose the organic version of the produce listed in the ‘Dirty Dozen’.  Stick to organic apples and strawberries (and the other dirty dozen) at home and you wont have to stress when your child eats a conventional apple at school.   


For the last couple of years apples have reigned as the ‘dirtiest’ (ie with highest pesticide residue) of all produce. Here is the list of the top 20 ‘dirtiest’  fruits and vegetables.   You can read the Full list at The Environmental Working Group’s website (which is an amazing website you should check out if anyway if you are interested in non-toxic living)

  1. Apple
  2. Strawberries
  3. Grapes
  4. Celery
  5. Peaches
  6. Spinach
  7. Sweet bell pepers
  8. Nectarines (imported)
  9. Cucumber
  10. Cherry Tomatoes
  11. Snap peas
  12. Potatoes
  13. Hot peppers
  14. Blueberries (domestic)
  15. Lettuce
  16. Kale
  17. Plums
  18. Cherries
  19. Nectarines (domestic)
  20. Pears


The produce that was found to have the least amount of pesticide residue? Avocados!  So no need to spend $2.50 per organic avocado (that is what they cost at my local Whole Foods! Same goes for mangoes which carry a hefty price tag in NYC) 

The ‘cleanest’ (ie: those with the least pesticide residue) fruits are vegetables are:

  1. avocados
  2. sweet corn
  3. pineapples
  4. cabbage
  5. sweet peas (frozen)
  6. onions
  7. asparagus
  8. mangoes
  9. papaya
  10. kiwi
  11. eggplant

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