Foods That Have the Highest and Lowest Levels of Pesticides

Kids and parent shoppingMost grocery stores offer organic fruits and vegetables that cost more than their regular counterparts. Does the organic label really make a difference, or is it simply clever marketing geared toward shoppers worried about their families’ health?

“It’s important for some foods, but not others,” says Katie Hearne, a Pediatric Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, affiliated with Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. “Buying every food organic isn’t feasible for many families and shouldn’t be a source of stress or guilt for parents.” Foods that are labeled “USDA organic” are made with 95 percent or higher organic ingredients, and are certified as produced without the use of synthetic chemicals or fertilizers, genetic engineering, radiation, or sewage sludge. Products with between 70 to 95 percent organic ingredients, on the other hand, are labeled as “made with organic ingredients.” Although studies have shown an all-organic diet eliminates pesticides from children’s bodies, Hearne says many parents focus on the foods with the highest levels of pesticides.

To check on a specific fruit or vegetable, Hearne advises parents to refer to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website, ewg.org. For a shortcut, use the organization’s quick-hit list, below:

The Clean 15

The EWG has determined these produce items to have the lowest levels of pesticide residue:

  • Avocados
  • Corn
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet peas
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi
  • Eggplant
  • Honeydew
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower

Did you know? Foods that are labeled “USDA organic” are made with 95 percent greater organic ingredients and are certified as produced without the use of synthetic chemicals or fertilizers.

The Dirty Dozen

The EWG encourages consumers to buy organic versions of these fruits and vegetables:

  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Celery
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Bell peppers
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Cucumbers

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Nutrition