Every year the Environmental Working Group evaluates fruits and veggies for pesticides, and the most contaminated culprits are probably in your favorite smoothie.
Photo: Getty Images / Shana Novak
You try to buy organic, but, let's be honest, sometimes you just grab whatever produce is cheapest and most convenient. It's healthy food, so how bad can it really be, right?
Well according to the latest analysis from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) on pesticides found in conventionally grown produce, you might want to rethink your shopping cart—some of your favorite smoothie staples could contain a serious dose of pesticide residue. (Have you tried these slimming fruit smoothies?)
Each year, EWG analyzes data from food safety tests conducted by the Department of Agriculture. In the most recent tests, they found that nearly 70 percent of conventionally grown fruits and veggies are contaminated with pesticide residues—which can still be present even after your produce is washed and peeled. Blech.
According to EWG's 2018 "Dirty Dozen" list released today, strawberries and spinach are the dirtiest foods you can pick up in the produce aisle. The strawberry samples tested by EWG were particularly polluted with one-third of all the berries tested containing residue from 10 or more pesticides. (One sample had residue from 22 separate pesticides.) Meanwhile, the spinach tested by the EWG—97 percent of which was contaminated with pesticide residue—contained relatively high levels of permethrin, a pesticide that has been linked to cancer and pregnancy complications in preliminary studies.
Also on the list of pesticide-laden fruits and veggies are nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and sweet bell peppers. In other words, go organic for the items listed.
If these fruits and veggies are so contaminated, how are they making it onto our plates? Unfortunately, the use of these pesticides is currently approved by the USDA for conventional growers. Certain organic varieties allow the use of some pesticides but they're much more regulated.
To eat cleaner, opt for the organic versions of the produce on the Dirty Dozen list when you can. (Did you know that organic fruit also has more antioxidants?) But more importantly, don't let the list put you into a full-on panic to the point where you're avoiding the produce section altogether, says Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., a certified nutritionist. "The best way to ensure produce safety is to practice properly cleaning your fruits and vegetables," she says. Using water, gently scrub your fruits and veggies when you get home from the grocery store. "If you do this, you are proactively helping to ensure you are eating the safest produce possible, organic or not," says Shaw.
EWG also has a "Clean 15" list, which details the cleanest fruits and veggies. Spoiler alert: Avocados are the most pesticide-free produce you can buy. Score!
Shaw stresses the important thing to remember is to eat your veggies your fruits and veggies—regardless of which list they fall on. "If you prefer organic, that's great—go for it," she says. "But, if you're like me and choose whichever is on sale that week, rest assured, you are still doing your body and lifelong health good by eating more produce."