You may be aware of an annual report called the Dirty Dozen that lists the 12 types of produce that have been found to have the most pesticide residue.
But produce, while a significant source of contamination, is not the only way we get pesticides in our food. It shows up in meat and dairy products as well, because farm animals are fed diets heavy in pesticide-laden food.
Many pesticides do not break down inside human or animal bodies, and instead only increase their concentration over the course of a lifetime.
The latest research on this issue shows that heavy pesticide ingestion throughout life can have a negative impact on reproductive health, among other problems. To protect your health and that of your growing children, choose organic as often as possible – always when it comes to the following 7 foods
Strawberries are almost always at the top of the Dirty Dozen list, and more than one-third of tested samples are positive for 10 or more types of pesticide residue. Strawberries may be especially prone to holding onto residue because their seeds are on the outside, creating small impressions that hold pesticides sprayed on the fruit.
Strawberries are also quite soft and tender, so pesticides can penetrate the surface. They are grown in contact with the dirt and are not washed before packing and shipping because the moisture can speed up mold growth. Strawberries are also eaten largely whole, that is, not peeled. If you only buy one fruit organic, strawberries should be it.
Spinach leaves are sprayed directly with pesticide, and have been found to have, on average, nearly 2x the pesticide residue by weight than any other crop. A full 96.6% of samples reveal residue of at least one pesticide, but 13.6% show at least 10 types!
When it comes to spinach, it’s not just about the fact that pesticide remains. A type of pesticide is used that has been banned in the EU and acknowledged as a “weak carcinogen” by the EPA.
A disconcerting 71% of spinach leaves sampled found some form of this chemical, called permethrin. Spinach is an extremely healthy leafy green, but you must buy it organic to avoid eating a proven carcinogen along with it.
Sweet and juicy nectarines have very soft skin that doesn’t provide much resistance to chemical pesticides seeking to penetrate into the fruit.
In fact, some pesticides used on nectarines are specifically designed to do exactly that in order to ward off pests that like to burrow inside soft fruits. Given that we eat nectarines skin and all, this offers a sort of double whammy.
Traditionally farmed cows are fed a diet full of grains that contain pesticide residue, but that’s not all. To keep herds healthy, the animals are given antibiotics all the time, even when they’re not sick. And some farmers rely on growth hormones to beef up their animals. All of these food additives can make their way into the milk of female cows.
It shouldn’t be surprising, as human mothers understand that pesticides and other man-made chemicals pass into their breast milk.
It is a bit ironic that the original source of the pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones in human milk might be the milk of another animal. At this point, four different pesticides have been found in non-organic milk.
5. Fatty Meats
We’ve mentioned that pesticides and other harmful stuff stay in the bodies of animals that are fed them. To get more specific about it, these chemicals tend to be found in the animal fat, rather than muscle tissue. (The same is true for humans.)
About a dozen pesticides have been identified in beef fat, and the pattern is consistent in other meats, with pork fat and chicken thighs showing pesticide residue that does not appear in the leaner cuts.
Potatoes and potato products are some of the most popular foods in the U.S. Sadly, over 30 different types of pesticides have been found in potatoes, even though the part we eat lives underground.
Theoretically, pesticides hit the plant above ground, not the buried part. But in fact potatoes and other root vegetables soak up a lot of the stuff that filters down through the dirt via water. In testing, the USDA found that 81% of potatoes contained pesticides even after being washed and peeled.
We don’t have a ton of data on coffee, but the beans imported to the U.S. come from countries with lax regulations surrounding use of pesticides. Coffee is also a crop with a poor human and animal rights record. To avoid pesticides, look for the USDA Organic label. Fair Trade Certified means that the farmers who grew and harvested the coffee are paid fairly and experience reasonable working conditions.
Finally, coffee labeled Rainforest Alliance or Bird Friendly has been grown under rainforest canopy in a process that preserved the ancient trees that serve as home for many species of birds. That’s a lot to think about when you’re just looking for your morning joe. It may help to do your research after having a cup.
When it comes to these 7 foods, it’s best to buy them organic so as avoid dosing your family with pesticide along with the critical vitamins and minerals.
Carefully washing produce can remove some dangerous residues, but not all. Products like coffee, of course, can’t be washed before using, nor can meat or milk. Buying organic is the best way to minimize your exposure to harmful pesticide residue.