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Pesticides In Foods – A Quick-ish Guide to Cleaner Eating (updated February 2018)

We can’t always afford to eat completely organically, and even if we can, we sometimes can’t get the variety of foods necessary to give us optimum nutrition. So how can we eat more cleanly, and potentially more safely, without busting the budget or missing out on vital nutrients? With the help of figures from the USDA, FDA  and the US Environmental Working Group*, below is a listing of the most and least contaminated fruits and vegetables. This list includes both domestically grown and imported produce. The figures are based on measurable pesticides in the eaten portion of the foods studied (i.e. after washing and peeling). Additionally, there is also a short list of other staple foods that are good to buy organic.

There will inevitably be differences between the way pesticides and other chemicals are used in the US and the UK, but due to in the natural susceptibility of the same crops being subject to pests and diseases, this US-based listing may act as a guide. The US also grows many foods that we in the UK cannot, principally citrus and tropical fruits, and will have more stringent domestic pesticide and agricultural chemical guidelines than some countries from which the UK imports. Even so, it is important to bear in mind that it is important to eat a sensible, balanced diet, whether organic or not: conventionally and organically grown/reared foods have to meet the same strict food safety regulations. For plant foods especially, the phytochemical ‘anticancer’ properties are overwhelmingly more beneficial than the pesticides may be harmful.

Dirtiest (most contaminated fruits and vegetables) – 2017 results

Strawberries (most contaminated fruit), Nectarines, Apples, Peaches, Pears, Cherries, Grapes

Spinach (most contaminated vegetable), Celery, Tomatoes, Sweet Red Peppers, Potatoes

Others to get organic if possible: Cucumber, Cherry Tomatoes, Lettuce, Snap Peas, Blueberries, Hot Peppers, Kale/Collards, Green Beans, Bananas, Green Onions (Spring Onions-UK), Watermelon, Mushrooms, Sweet Potatoes, Broccoli

Cleanest (least contaminated fruits and vegetables) – 2017 results

Avocados (least contaminated fruit), Pineapple, Mango, Honeydew Melon, Kiwi, Cantaloupe, Grapefruit

Sweetcorn* (least contaminated vegetable), Cabbage, Onions, Peas (frozen), Asparagus, Eggplant/Aubergine, Cauliflower
* in the US, conventional sweetcorn may be GMO
Here is a Summary of EWG’s 2017 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. It is really worth reading as it goes into detail on how they tested.

The UK Pesticides Residue Committee doesn’t organise their data in as user-friendly a fashion, but they do cover a representative sample of most everything – fruits, vegetables, seeds, grains, animal products, infant food, miscellaneous groceries, gluten-free foods. Groups of foods are displayed in pie chart form as to whether or not they have traces of pesticide residue. Here is the link to pesticide testing results on commonly consumed foods in the UK

Good To Go Organic – below are some commonly consumed products that tend to have higher levels of agricultural chemicals than the organic equivalent. But again, the levels fall well within our (UK) strict food safety limits.
Meat and Poultry – aside from considerations about antibiotic residue, pork, beef and chicken skin (less so in meat itself) can be contaminated with pesticides and fertilisers used to grow the animals’ feed and on the grazing land itself.

Milk and Dairy Products – there can be higher levels of pesticides and other man-made chemicals found in conventionally reared dairy cows. Milk tested in the UK does not routinely show traces of pesticides.

Coffee and Rice – these staple items come from countries with fewer restrictions on the use of agricultural and processing chemicals. 
Further Reading:
Lastly, these authors offer thoughtful and insightful advice on the food issues we face today: Hattie Ellis, Joanna Blythman, Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle.

5 thoughts on “Pesticides In Foods – A Quick Guide to Cleaner Eating

  1. andylmoore says:

    Interesting. Another post that’s pushing me to eat less red meat.

  2. Fascinating information – I’ve been looking for this for ages! I’m researching best diet for dementia (my mum) and found you via googling re Michael Moseley’s BBC Horizon prog and the Genesis Intermittent Diet (5:2 diet). Great blog. Thank you.

    1. So glad you found me 😀 Btw, coffee (really any caffeinated drinks up to 300mg/day total) has been shown to slow Alzheimer’s onset. Not sure how it is post-diagnosis.

      1. Unfortunately caffeine is a no no for her as she can’t tolerate it well. Dementia meds cause probs with digestive tract so must avoid all other stimulants. She was on decaf for many years pre-diagnosis too – so that’s interesting. Will google it. Thanks.

  3. great information. I have also been thinking of researching on this topic.

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