Pesticides: the Dirty Dozen of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

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Increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables to stay healthy could also mean eating more pesticides, according to a non-profit public health advocacy group.

The Environmental Working Group released its annual “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.” Apples once again topped the “Dirty Dozen” list, with 98% showing traces of pesticides.

Overall, 68 percent of the fresh fruits and vegetables tested positive for pesticides, even after being washed and peeled. Other top offenders included celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches and strawberries.

Over the past eight years, EWG has compiled the Dirty Dozen list by reviewing pesticide-testing data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

The amounts and types of pesticides varied among the samples. For example, all imported nectarines tested positive for some pesticide residues. Grapes, on the other hand, showed up to 15 kinds of pesticides on a single sample.

Pesticides can have serious effects on health, such as promoting cancer growth, messing with the endocrine system, and causing learning and developmental delays in children.

There isn’t much evidence, however, showing that the small amount of pesticide residues found on food is dangerous. A review of the USDA data by NPR found that only 1 out of every 744 apples had pesticide levels higher than the government’s limit.

The EWG is still urging people to buy organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible, especially for those on the Dirty Dozen list. Organic foods have lower levels of pesticides, although they may not be completely free.

Either way, eating fresh fruits and vegetables—organic or not—is essential for staying healthy. “The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure,” the EWG said on its website.

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