What a world-gone-crazy time it is when you can write “produce” and “avoid” in the same sentence. In my version of paradise we don’t need lists to tell us what not to eat because of pesticide contamination, thanks to a spiraling out-of-control food system. But here we are, with the newly published 5th edition of Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides, which includes the latest government data.
You have probably seen the guide before; it lists 47 popular fruits and vegetables in ranking of pesticide contamination and helps you know which produce to buy organic, and which conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables are okay if organic isn’t available. An EWG simulation of thousands of consumers eating high and low pesticide diets shows that people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 80 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead.
According to EWG, every year new research is published demonstrating the toxicity of pesticides to human health and the environment, often at doses previously declared “safe” by the pesticide industry and the government. As acknowledged by the U.S. and international government agencies, different pesticides have been linked with a variety of toxic effects, including nervous system effects, carcinogenic effects, hormone system effects, and skin, eye and lung irritation.
Ideally, for the environment, we’d all choose organic all the time. But for many that’s not realistic, so this list can be very helpful in guiding you to make the healthiest choices available to you. You can download the full list of the 47 at EWG. I have compiled a cheat sheet here of what to look for in your spring produce shopping. The rankings are listed in the parenthesis. Out of 47 items tested, 1 is the most contaminated and 47 is the least.
Buy Organic or Don’t Buy: Five spring items with the highest pesticide loads
Aim for Organic, But Conventional Will Do: Four spring items with the lowest pesticide loads
sweet peas (41)
If you can shop at a farmer’s market, remember to ask the vendors about their pest management philosophies. Many farmers are unable or unwilling to file for organic certification but still practice organic, or almost organic, methods. It can be a good way for safer eating without the organic label.