Avoid toxic pesticides with smart produce choices
  • Saturday, February 16, 2019
  • 67°


Avoid toxic pesticides with smart produce choices

  • This photo taken Tuesday, May 30, 2017, a costumer shops at a local supermarket in Hialeah, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)


The Environmental Working Group makes it clear there are measurably risky pesticide residue levels in our food supply, despite the fact that since 1993 (and before) the government has known how toxic they can be.

And there are serious repercussions: A study in JAMA last year found that a woman going through assisted reproductive technologies who eats two or more servings a day of high pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables reduces her chance of a successful pregnancy by 26 percent! And a 2015 study found that men seeking fertility-enhancement treatment who had the highest level of pesticide residue in their blood had the most compromised semen quality.

The group’s annual report on the foods with the highest pesticide residue and, thank heavens, the adjoining report on the Clean 15 help you select the most healthful foods.

The Dirty Dozen: In descending order, they are: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and sweet bell peppers.

According to the Environmental Working Group: “More than 98 percent of samples of strawberries, spinach, peaches, nectarines, cherries and apples tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide. A single sample of strawberries showed 20 different pesticides. Spinach samples had, on average, 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight as any other crop.”

An example of how toxic pesticides persist in your food supply: Although ­Environmental Protection Agency scientists recently re-evaluated the evidence about the effect of organophosphate pesticides on a child’s brain and behavior, and concluded that the pesticide chlorpyrifos was unsafe, EPA head Scott Pruitt canceled a scheduled chlorpyrifos ban and announced that the agency would not finish its safety assessment for chlorpyrifos until 2022.

The Clean 15: The fruits and veggies least likely to contain pesticide residues included avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbages, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplants, honeydews, kiwis, cantaloupes, cauliflower and broccoli.

Less than 1 percent of samples of avocados and sweet corn had any detectable pesticides. More than 80 percent of pineapples, papayas, asparagus, onions and cabbages had no pesticide residues.


1. All veggies and fruits (including ­triple-washed packaged greens) should be washed well before eating.

2. Eating fresh fruits and veggies is so healthful that you do not want to leave them out of your diet. Opt for organic versions of the Dirty Dozen when you can, and certainly if you plan to get pregnant within the year or are pregnant or nursing. Aim to eat seven to nine servings of produce daily.

3. Indulge in the Clean 15! Cruciferous veggies like broccoli can help you battle cancer and keep your gastro system moving along. Avocados contain healthy fats and help stabilize blood sugar (stick with 1/4 avocado per serving). Papayas deliver serious digestive benefits with their enzyme papain, and their polyphenols such as beta carotene help fight off cancer, diabetes and asthma.

4. Get informed about pesticides on organic veggies. Pesticides used on organic crops include sulfur, lime sulfur, mineral oil, copper-based fungicides, Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) and other live biologicals. Those pesticides leave a minor residue on produce, but the Department of Agriculture says they’re nontoxic. And while synthetic chemicals like pheromones are organic-allowed, these are substantially different from the toxic synthetic pesticides used in conventional farming.

Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to youdocsdaily@sharecare.com.

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