Organic Diet Results in Lower Pesticide Load
Claimed to be the largest of its kind, a new study1 published in the Environmental Health Perspectives looked at the diets of nearly 4,500 people living in six US cities, assessing exposure levels to organophosphates (OPs), which are among the most commonly used insecticides on American farms.
Participants’ organophosphate levels were estimated using USDA data2 on the average levels of pesticide residue found in the fruits and vegetables that each individual reported eating.
To verify the accuracy of their estimates, they compared their calculated pesticide exposures to the actual levels of pesticide metabolites (breakdown products) excreted in the urine of a subset of 720 participants.
Not surprisingly, those who ate conventionally-grown produce were found to have high concentrations of OP metabolites, whereas those who ate organic produce had significantly lower levels.
Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce
To protect your health, your best bet is to buy only organic fruits and vegetables, as synthetic chemicals are not permissible under the USDA organic rules. That said, not all conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are subjected to the same amount of pesticide load. One way to save some money while still lowering your risk is by focusing on purchasing certain organic items, while “settling” for others that are conventionally-grown.
To do this, I recommend familiarizing yourself with the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) annual Shoppers’ Guide to Pesticides in Produce.20 Of the 48 different fruit and vegetable categories tested by the EWG for the 2014 guide, the following 15 fruits and vegetables had the highest pesticide load, making them the most important to buy or grow organically:
Apples Strawberries Grapes Celery Peaches Spinach Sweet bell peppers Nectarines Cucumbers Cherry tomatoes Imported snap peas Potatoes Hot peppers Blueberries Lettuce
In contrast, the following foods were found to have the lowest residual pesticide load, making them the safest bet among conventionally grown vegetables. Note that a small amount of sweet corn and most Hawaiian papaya, although low in pesticides, are genetically engineered (GE). If you’re unsure of whether the sweet corn or papaya is GE, I’d recommend opting for organic varieties. To review the ranking of all 48 foods tested, please see the EWG’s 2014 Shoppers’ Guide to Pesticides in Produce:21
Avocado Sweet corn Pineapple Cabbage Frozen sweet peas Onions Asparagus Mangoes Papayas (non-GMO. Most Hawaiian papaya is GMO) Kiwi Eggplant Grapefruit Cantaloupe Cauliflower Sweet potatoes