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The Worst Foods for Pesticides & What You Should Avoid

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By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

As the weather grows warmer, most of us will be eating more salads and fruits, which is a good thing. But did you know that some produce carries more pesticide than others?

Pesticides have been linked to a wide range of health problems, ranging from headaches and nausea to cancer, reproductive harm, and endocrine disruption. Children are especially sensitive to these chemicals: they’ve been linked to the rise in both autism and  Attention Deficit Disorder.

Even more frighteningly, pesticides can cause many types of cancer in humans. Some of the most prevalent forms known to be caused by pesticides include leukemia, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, brain, bone, breast, ovarian, prostate, testicular and liver cancers. In fact, these diseases have been shown to be especially prevalent in farmers who use pesticides.

There is also mounting evidence that exposure to pesticides disrupts the endocrine system, wreaking havoc with the delicate regulation of hormones, the reproductive system, and embryonic development. Endocrine disruption can produce infertility and a variety of birth defects and developmental defects in offspring, including hormonal imbalances and incomplete sexual development, impaired brain development, behavioral disorders, and many others. Examples of known endocrine disrupting chemicals which are present in large quantities in our environment include DDT (which still persists in abundance more than 20 years after being banned in the EU and USA), lindane, atrazine, carbaryl, parathion, and many others.

Clearly, we aren’t only exposed to pesticides sprayed onto food–they also enter our groundwater, air, and cause genetic mutations in the insect world, which eventually affect creatures higher up on the food chain. Most worryingly, in genetically modified foods, some of the most prevalent pesticides are actually built right into the plant, and can’t be washed off!

And it’s not just pesticides we need to be concerned about–non-organic animal based foods may contain antibiotics and growth hormones, injected into the animals to improve yields and to their susceptibility to viruses.

Apart from being less harmful due to not carrying a load of heavy chemicals, organic food has been proven to contain higher levels of nutrients than non-organic food, with lower levels of nitrates and containing more antioxidants.

While we believe it’s important to eat organic whenever possible, if you must choose only a selected few foods, Eluxe has made a list of the 10 products we eat that could potentially be the most hazardous, due to the fact that they are usually produced with the most chemicals.

Here’s our list of the Top 10 Worst Foods for Pesticides, which you should really buy organic.

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1. All Non-Organic Meat

More than any vegetable on the list below, meat of any kind is number one for carrying a heavy pesticide, fungicide and antibiotic load. It makes sense when you consider that the plants animals are fed are sprayed with pesticides–and not washed afterwards.

Moreover, genetically modified soy and corn feed is the dietary staple for most commercially farmed pigs, cows, chickens and sheep.

As the animals we eat are living in cramped quarters, they tend to get sick, so residues of antibiotics and other drugs, E. coli, salmonella, and of course, fungicides, herbicides and pesticides show up in almost all meat and chicken. Study after study shows animal flesh is probably one of the most toxic foods you can consume.

Our advice? Go vegan. Seriously.

2. Berries

Berries may be tasty and full of nutrition, but they are also one of the most contaminated products in the world. Their soft skin means the chemicals permeate the fruit most easily, and as they lie on the ground, they often linger in pools of chemicals.

In the USA, strawberries are the crop that is most heavily dosed with pesticides. On average, 300 pounds of pesticides are applied to every acre of strawberries (compared to an average of 25 pounds per acre for other foods). Thirty-six different pesticides are commonly used on strawberries, and 90% of strawberries tested register pesticide contamination above safe levels.

Raspberries trump strawberries with the application of 39 chemicals: 58% of the raspberries tested registered positive for contamination.  Cherries are almost as dodgy with 25 pesticides and 91% contamination. Be especially careful of frozen berries and cherries, which are often not washed well before freezing.

Given that in their organic state, berries provide powerful antioxidant and anti-cancer benefits, we think it’s worth wolfing these down by the handful–if they’re organic.

3. Apples

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is only true if it’s organic, since this fruit usually is one of the most sprayed with pesticides. We recommend you look-out for the apples from New Zealand, which are treated with half as many pesticides as others, if you don’t want to end up like Snow White: in one study, 91%  of apples tested positive for pesticide residue. Peeling nonorganic apples reduces but does not eliminate the danger of ingesting these chemicals. Pears rank hazardously near apples with 35 pesticides and 94% contamination.

4. Soft Fruit (Like Grapes and Peaches)

Grapes and peaches, just like other thin skinned fruit that ripen quickly, tend to mould and attract insects. To prevent this, most growers put multiple applications of various chemicals. As a result, soft fruits often  contain the highest amount of pesticides, and their thin skin means that after they’re subjected to pesticides and herbicides, these substances really sink into the fruit–peeling makes no difference. Organic is really the only way to go here, but the good news is that in most climates, it’s easy to grow your own grape vines, even on a balcony or urban terrace.

5. Cucumbers

In a survey of 42 common vegetables, cucumbers were ranked second in cancer risk and 12th in “most contaminated food” by the Environmental Working Group, a respected public-interest group. Make sure to peel the cucumbers, since the waxes used to make the skin shiny also tend to hold chemicals.

6. Potatoes

Potatoes may seem harmless as they grow underground, but are often subjected to pesticides after harvesting. They also often soak up fungicides sprayed on the soil as well. Go for the organic version and save yourself from consuming these unwanted chemicals.

7. Spinach and Leafy Greens

Worms love these leaves, and to keep them for human consumption, pesticide is often sprayed. It’s often difficult to wash these chemicals off the nooks and crannies of each leaf, so they end up inside you. Unfortunately, the chemicals used to treat greens are suspected of causing cancer and interfering with hormone production. Celery, lettuce, arugula, and even kale have all been found to have high levels of pesticide residues. If you love your greens, going organic is a must!

8. Milk (and all Dairy Products)

Dairy is always touted as being a bone-building, healthy food, but the truth is quite different–dairy can seriously harm your health.

Nowadays, cows are often fed genetically modified corn–and no one really knows the health effects this can have on not only the animal, but those who consume animal products. Even cows fed on grass have been found to have  milk with measurable quantities of herbicides, pesticides, dioxins (up to 200 times the safe levels), and up to 52 powerful antibiotics, not to mention blood, pus, feces, bacteria and viruses.

Many dieticians advise forgoing dairy altogether, and we tend to agree. Just avoid it.

9. Coffee

Oh, it’s a sad fact for us coffee lovers, but this bean is one of the most intensively sprayed crops around. Why? Normally, coffee is grows on bushes naturally in the shade, but to increase production, most large coffee makers cut down huge swaths of rainforest (hello, Nestle!) and douse the beans with chemicals to grow coffee more quickly.

But don’t worry–there are plenty of ways to get a healthy cup of morning sunshine–organic coffee is becoming more mainstream as the public demands food staples with fewer chemicals. Just be aware that FairTrade does NOT mean the brand is organic–it refers only to the price farmers are paid for their work.

If you can’t find organic, certified shade-grown coffee is the next best thing–coffee grown in more natural circumstances is less likely to be heavily sprayed, and ensures your beans are not destroying rainforests.

10. Pasta, Breat (& Wheat in General)

For all those Italian-food fans out there, addicted to pasta beware: 7 Spaghetti brands – out of 15 tested – have been found to contain high levels of pesticides, through a survey carried out by the Swiss Network RTS and the magazine ‘Bon à  Savoir.’ Five of these contain Pirimifos-methyl (a very powerful insecticide), that is used to preserve wheat in silos. Combino, Reggano, Barilla, La Pasta di Flavio and Prix Garantie are the brands that rated highest in contaminants. As you will notice the first four are Italian, whilst the other faulty pasta label is Swiss. These are joined by the remaining two: Qualite & Priz and Denner, which had traces of the insecticide Cypermethrin-acaricides.

Another reason to avoid not just pasta, but wheat in general, is the presence of  glyphosate. This toxic pesticide is banned in a few EU countries but may sneak into exported processed foods – and let’s face it, what doesn’t contain wheat these days? Glyphosate could be lurking in anything from your pizza base to your tomato soup.

On the positive side, all organic pastas tested proved to be completely safe, as did these popular brands: De Cecco, Garofalo and Barilla’s Whole Grain Pasta. Keep in mind  that ALL wheat–be it white or whole grain–is likely to have pesticide residue unless it’s organic.

What You CAN Eat Safely: The Clean 15

The good news is, there are plenty of fruit and veg that are cleaner–this group, known as the ‘clean 15’ requires far less pesticide than the foods mentioned above. Eat them frequently, and consider renewing your typical regimen of foods, replacing them with these instead. We suggest printing it up and sticking it in the pantry door!

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And if you’re eating some of the ‘dirtier’ fruit and veg, here’s a little reminder on how to wash them well. Note that soaking produce in water with a few drops of white vinegar or baking soda and water can help diminish some pesticides.

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Infographics: Health Perch

Images: Wikicommons

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22 Comments

  • Reply
    chloe
    May 30, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    Hi! After reading this article, now a day, it’s seem really hard to find something good to eat and drink, don’t you think?
    so what do you suggest us to eat or even drink? What could be good for us? Is there any impact? bad or maybe good?

    Thanks, i have loved reading this article

    • Reply
      Janistin
      Sep 19, 2016 at 10:49 pm

      I agree, it makes me want to just go back to the mc Donalds drive thru…lol what’s the harm in a hamburger verses heavy toxic berries, meat and green veggies. I hear it’s not even meat..lol! My issue? Is this pesticide use gotten stronger for demand or is organic a fad? I know organics better. Here’s a couple things I heard that really stuck with me as for avoiding at all cost. Baby carrots (sounds crazy but yes they are worse and I can’t remember why). strawberrys,apples,potatoes,soft skin fruit obviously, and newest is coffeee. It’s been said it’s the most heavily sprayed today. Obviously if we can trust farmers,fda then it’s within safe limits and you just rinse them well. The above I mention I wouldn’t buy. Again local growers may be able to give you better foods because of there unique growing apart from large commercial farms!

  • Reply
    Chere
    Oct 13, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Hi Chloe! Glad you liked the article. You can eat just about anything if it ´s organic. If not, do your best to wash off pesticides by soaking fruit and veg in 1T baking soda mixed with 1T vinegar. After about 30 mins soaking, rinse it all off and voila!

  • Reply
    Taracy
    Apr 14, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    Meat doesn’t deserve a bad rap if it’s pasture raised/grass fed on a farm that believes in humane treatment. In fact it will boost the omega 3 content. Something difficult to balance with a vegetarian diet. Thanks for veggie washing tip!

  • Reply
    Mindy Lee
    May 17, 2016 at 2:21 am

    Thanks for this article- seems like the answer is to buy organic for some of my fave fruits, and start to grow my own veggies. Will repost this to our worm casting site. – Vermisterra

  • Reply
    Bane
    Jun 11, 2016 at 1:36 am

    Good article glad to see someone is informing the populace, but one thing I would recommend updating is that Papayas and sweet corn are genetically modified as well. Papayas are one of the most modified grown crops in the world apart from cotton, corn, soy, and alfalfa

    • Reply
      Chere
      Jun 11, 2016 at 11:08 am

      That’s so true! And so unfortunate. 🙁

  • Reply
    James
    Sep 18, 2016 at 2:01 am

    You need to stop saying organic crops don’t use pesticides/insecticides. They ALL do. The FDA has now approved Non-Organic pesticides/insecticdes for use on organic crops. Organic crops are no safer or dangerous than regular crops. Do your homework. Think about it. Do you really think an insect flies over organic crops IF they had no pesticides and thinks “Hmmmm, I think I’ll leave these hearty, tasty and ripe crops alone because they’re organic.”? Think about that for one second before you realize that not only is it a fact, it makes sense that organic crops would be sprayed too.

    • Reply
      Chere
      Sep 18, 2016 at 4:02 pm

      Yes James, but the difference is that organic farmers use less harmful kinds of pesticides and far, far, far less of them. Additionally, organic food is certified GMO free, and it often uses integrated pest management to keep insects at bay (i.e. planting one crop beside another because it repels certain insects). Organic crops are FAR safer than non organic, as study after study proves, and even provide a greater amount of nutrients – especially since non-organic food is often radiated to keep it ‘fresher’ longer, which kills off beneficial micro-organisms..

      https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/11/organic-food-more-antioxidants-study
      https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Carlo_Leifert/publications
      http://www.foodcomm.org.uk/campaigns/irradiation_concerns/
      Sheila Zahm and Aaron Blair, “Pesticides and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” Cancer Research, 52 Supp. (1992):S5485-88

    • Reply
      Janis
      Sep 19, 2016 at 7:45 pm

      James they have greenhouses now and potted or natural repellents. I have grown a huge pot of tomatoes, not one pesticide. Don’t spray leaves only dirt, trim of bad leaves. I did one treatment of alcohol and dish detergent and water in spray…once. to eradicate fleas. I potted 3 plants of mini peppers and all or aging at most I flicked of a worm or 2. I clip bad leaves and clip excessive leaves…it’s posssible. Trust me, this was my first season and it worked out well. Also, though I’m not totally advising if you ever plant don’t believe the hype of only 1 or 2 to pot. I ha e multiple. I mave have produce smaller fruist?? My vine tomatoes turned out cherry…lol but I had like 7 plants in one large plant. The issue is are they spraying more for demand. Many people that lived near farms were being sick from farmers spraying. My question is how they make organic fruit like apples and olives?

      • Reply
        Janistin
        Sep 19, 2016 at 10:52 pm

        What I meant is I only spray dirt with water to avoid disease of leaves!

  • Reply
    Marilyn Jensen
    Sep 20, 2017 at 4:54 pm

    Corn is the worst for pesticides.

  • Leave a Reply

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