Choosing Fruits With the Lowest Level of Pesticides
You can cut the amount of pesticide you eat or drink by up to 80% if you choose to eat the least-contaminated fruits – this means knowing which fruits to buy.
In Europe, almost half of all the fruits, vegetables and cereals sold in 2008 were contaminated with pesticides. Every day in the US, 610,000 children aged from one to five eat a dose of neurotoxic organophosphate insecticides (OPs) that the US government (and many others) judge to be unsafe. This situation is echoed, and often worse, in other countries around the world.
And some of the fruits and vegetables with the highest level of pesticides are those we eat the most. The average westerner consumes over 11kg of apples each year, and 98% of those apples have pesticides on them (the average apple has four different pesticides on its skin). Fruit juice is no better – 98% of apple juice and 96% of peach juice has been found to contain pesticides.
This article looks at the most contaminated fruits, and offers cleaner, healthier alternatives that have a similar nutritional content.
Apples provide very little in the way of nutrients, but their pesticide load is extremely high – in fact they are the third most contaminated fruit or vegetable, after peaches and nectarines. More than half of those 610,000 US children who are exposed to an dangerous dose of OP insecticides each day get it from eating either an apple, apple juice, or apple sauce. A child has a 50:50 chance of eating an apple with nine pesticides on it. And you can’t wash these off – in 1995 and in 1996, USDA technicians washed apple samples before retesting, to find up to 12 pesticides and breakdown products still on them. Almost any fruit on the least-contaminated list would make a great substitute for a non-organic apple – try papayas, mangoes and kiwis.
These are high in vitamin C, but consistently test positive for high levels of fungicides, including captan and iprodione (which are classified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as probable human carcinogens) and vinclozolin (a hormone disruptor). Strawberries are also routinely contaminated with endosulfan, a chemical relative of DDT which interferes with normal hormone function. Possible substitutes for strawberries that have far lower pesticide residues include raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and kiwi fruits.
Cherries have little nutritional value but they are wildly delicious, and children love them. Some countries use far fewer pesticides than farmers in the US, so try to buy cherries from Europe, Australia or Africa. Better still, persuade the kids to eat blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, oranges, kiwis or watermelon.
Peaches and Nectarines
These delicious soft fruits provide some vitamin A and C, but little else on the good side. However, they often contain large amounts of the carcinogenic fungicides captan and iprodione, together with the neurotoxic pesticide methyl parathion. These are best bought organic or avoided altogether – but alarmingly, the unapproved pesticide fludioxonil was found on organic peaches from California. If you need to substitute for a recipe, use oranges, papayas, or kiwis.
Grapes are one of the worst offenders. These fruits are high in vitamin K and manganese, but often contain a high load of carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting fungicides. Analysis of table grapes bought from 18 major food retailers across Europe revealed illegal and unsafe pesticides on grapes on sale to consumers – 99% of the grapes on sale contained pesticides, many with links to cancer, infertility, nerve damage, hormonal disruption and DNA mutations. The USDA Pesticide Data Program found that 32% of tested raisins contained the carcinogenic pesticide Pyraclostrobin. Buy organic, or wash very vigorously in soapy water then rinse, or switch to eating low-risk kiwis, blueberries or bananas.
Pears are high in vitamin C, omega-6 fatty acids and fibre, but have found to be contaminated with the following pesticides: carbendazim, chlormequat, dithiocarbamates, tolylfluanid and captan. Chlormequat is not approved for use on pears grown in the UK, but is used in other European countries. In recent surveys, around 40% of pears tested showed signs of more than one kind of pesticide. Try using less-contaminated tropical fruit instead, such as papayas, mangoes and kiwis.
The Cleanest Fruits
This is a list of the cleanest fruits (showing least pesticide residues), taken from the Environmental Working Group’s full table.The values are based on 100 for fruit/vegetables with the worst pesticide load (apples), to 1 for the fruit/vegetables with the lowest pesticide load (onions and avocados).