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2019′s Dirty Dozen: Which foods have the most pesticides?

By Mary Daly From Care2

Beware the “Dirty Dozen.” The Environmental Working Group has released its annual list of fruits and vegetables most likely to be contaminated with pesticides, based on testing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And this year’s Dirty Dozen — as the produce is nicknamed — has some unsettling surprises.

“Overall, the USDA found 225 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on popular fruits and vegetables Americans eat every day,” according to an Environmental Working Group news release. “Before testing, all produce was washed and peeled, just as people would prepare food for themselves.” And the results for one particular trendy foodwere eye-opening. “The most surprising news from the USDA tests reveals that the popular health food kale is among the most contaminated fruits and vegetables,” the news release says.

So which conventionally grown fruits and vegetables (as opposed to organic) should you avoid if you want to limit the pesticides in your diet? Here is 2019’s Dirty Dozen.


raw baby potatoes on wooden surface

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The Environmental Working Group does point out that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is critical for a healthy diet. But to make sure you’re maximizing the benefits, try to consume pesticide-free, organic varieties as often as possible. Potatoes, for instance, have numerous health benefits — as long as you’re not solely consuming them in chip form. One baked potato has about 145 calories, 2 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein. It also contains many vitamins and minerals — including several B vitamins, 10 percent of the recommended daily intake of magnesium, 17 percent of potassium, 13 percent of manganese and 17 percent of copper.


Have you joined the celery juice bandwagon? If you don’t want to be sipping or crunching on pesticides, aim to go the organic route. One cup of chopped celery contains just 16 calories with 2 grams of fiber and a gram of protein. And it still offers a fair amount of nutrients — including 9 percent of the recommended vitamin A intake, 37 percent of vitamin K, 9 percent of folate and 8 percent of potassium. Plus, according to Healthline,celery is full of antioxidants and can help reduce inflammation and aid digestion.

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Tomatoes are great to grow in your home garden, where you can prevent pesticides and other chemicals from coming in contact with your food. A cup of chopped tomatoes has only 32 calories with 2 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein. Plus, the serving provides you with 30 percent of your daily vitamin A, 38 percent of vitamin C, 18 percent of vitamin K and 12 percent of potassium, among other nutrients. Tomatoes are especially known for their lycopene, which gives them their red pigment. “Lycopene has been linked to health benefits ranging from heart health to protection against sunburns and certain types of cancers,” according to Healthline.


medium pear is a substantial snack — containing about 100 calories, 6 grams of fiber and a gram of protein. It also offers some vitamins and minerals, including 12 percent of the recommended vitamin C intake, 10 percent of vitamin K, 6 percent of potassium and 7 percent of copper. Still, even though a pear’s skin helps to make it a great source of fiber, it doesn’t keep the pesticides out. So make sure you’re consuming clean varieties of this fruit.


Fresh red cherries in basket on wooden table

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More than 90 percent of the cherry samples the Environmental Working Group analyzed tested positive for two or more pesticides. So for the full health-boosting potential of this tart little fruit, go organic. A cup of cherries has about 87 calories, 3 grams of fiber and 1 gram of protein. It also gives you a good amount of vitamin C, B vitamins and several minerals. Plus, according to Healthline, cherries are full of antioxidants and phytochemicals that can protect your body against diseases and reduce inflammation.


The thin skin of peaches doesn’t offer them much protection against pesticides. But it will contribute some fiber to your diet. One medium peach has about 60 calories, 2 grams of fiber and a gram of protein. It also contains several B vitamins, about 10 percent of the recommended vitamin A intake, 17 percent of vitamin C, 5 percent of vitamin K and 8 percent of potassium. And according to Healthline, peaches can be considered a low-sugar fruit with a little less than 13 grams of natural sugars.


If you take pesticides out of the equation, grapes can be a very healthy addition to your diet. A cup of red or green grapes has roughly 100 calories and a gram of fiber. And it provides you with 27 percent of the recommended vitamin C intake, 28 percent of vitamin K, 8 percent of potassium and 10 percent of copper, among other nutrients. According to Healthline, the potent antioxidants in grapes can help fight several diseases, such as diabetes and cancer. Plus, grapes also might help to improve heart health and lower cholesterol.


Just like with cherries, more than 90 percent of the apple samples carried two or more pesticides. “Apples are generally near the top of EWG’s Dirty Dozen list because they contain an average of 4.4 pesticide residues, including some at high concentrations,” according to the Environmental Working Group. And there’s one chemical in particular that’s especially controversial. “Most conventionally grown apples are drenched in diphenylamine, an antioxidant chemical treatment used to prevent the skin of apples in cold storage from developing brown or black patches,” the Environmental Working Group says. U.S. growers and regulators say the chemical poses no risk, but European regulators feel there isn’t enough evidence to prove its safety.


Nectarine fruit on a wooden table

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Nectarines also are among the fruits and vegetables that had more than 90 percent of their samples test positive for two or more pesticides. But sans pesticides, nectarines are a healthy way to get several nutrients. A medium nectarine has about 62 calories — most of those coming from its natural sugars. Plus, it contains 2 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein. It also offers multiple B vitamins, 9 percent of the recommended vitamin A intake, 13 percent of vitamin C, 8 percent of potassium and 6 percent of copper.


The Department of Agriculture hadn’t included kale in its pesticide tests since 2009. At that time, it ranked eighth on the Dirty Dozen list. But since its popularity has skyrocketed, so has the pesticide use. “More than 92 percent of kale samples had two or more pesticide residues detected, and a single sample could contain up to 18 different residues,” according to the Environmental Working Group news release. Especially alarming was the presence of the pesticide DCPA, or Dacthal, which showed up in roughly 60 percent of the kale samples. Since 1995, the EPA has classified DCPA as a possible carcinogen — specifically citing liver and thyroid tumors — and the European Union banned it in 2009. Yet it’s still legal to use on U.S. crops — including kale.


“Federal data shows that conventionally grown spinach has more pesticide residues by weight than all other produce tested,” according to the Environmental Working Group. There were an average of 7.1 different pesticides on every spinach sample. And more than three-quarters of the samples contained one particularly scary “neurotoxic bug killer” called permethrin. “At high doses, permethrin overwhelms the nervous system and causes tremors and seizures,” the Environmental Working Group says. “But several studies also found a link between lower-level exposure to permethrin-type insecticides and neurological effects in children.” Europe banned permethrin in 2000, but the EPA is still assessing its risks.


strawberries hanging on bushes

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Sweet, juicy, pesticide-filled strawberries took the top spot on 2019’s Dirty Dozen. “Conventionally grown strawberries … contained an average of 7.8 different pesticides per sample, compared to 2.2 pesticides per sample for all other produce,” according to the Environmental Working Group. “… What’s worse, strawberry growers use jaw-dropping volumes of poisonous gases to sterilize their fields before planting, killing every pest, weed and other living thing in the soil.” Of all the samples, 99 percent contained at least one pesticide — and 30 percent had 10 or more pesticides. Some of these chemicals have been linked to cancer, reproductive issues, hormone disruption, neurological problems and more. So if you’re not keen on putting that in your body, stick to the organic varieties.


The Environmental Working Group expanded 2019’s Dirty Dozen to include hot peppers, which don’t meet its traditional ranking criteria but nonetheless should have their contaminants exposed. “The USDA tests of 739 samples of hot peppers in 2010 and 2011 found residues of three highly toxic insecticides — acephate, chlorpyrifos and oxamyl — on a portion of sampled peppers at concentrations high enough to cause concern,” according to the Environmental Working Group news release. “These insecticides are banned on some crops but still allowed on hot peppers.” So buy organic hot peppers whenever possible. But if you can’t, washing and cooking them can somewhat diminish the pesticide levels.

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