Strawberries may be a superfood—but they pose a potential risk unless you go organic. In addition to having up to 13 pesticides detected on the fruit, according to an Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis, conventional "strawberries have a large surface area and all those tiny bumps, which makes the pesticides hard to wash off, so you’re ingesting more of those chemicals,"
If you can, also skip conventional peaches, apples, blueberries, and cherries, which are typically treated with multiple pesticides and usually eaten skins-on
The linings of microwave-popcorn bags may contain a toxic chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which is used to prevent the food from sticking to the paper. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PFOA is a likely carcinogen. "We don’t know all of the hazardous effects of PFOA yet, but we have some evidence of a link to cancer, as well as to effects on the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems,"
Pick up an air-popper or make your popcorn in a pan on the stove top.
The milk you’re drinking may not be doing your body good: Dairy products account for a reported 60 to 70 percent of the estrogens we consume through our food. If that seems like a shockingly large number, it’s mainly because milk naturally contains hormones passed along from cows. What worries some experts is that about 17% of dairy cows are treated with the hormone rBST (or rBGH), which stimulates milk production by increasing circulating levels of another hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1).
When researchers at the EWG analyzed 89,000 produce-pesticide tests to determine the most contaminated fruits and vegetables, celery topped the chart. "In terms of the sheer number of chemicals, it was the worst," says Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at the EWG. Celery stalks are very porous, so they retain the pesticides they’re sprayed with—up to 13 of them, according to the EWG analysis. Lunder also advises buying organic bell peppers, spinach and potatoes because they scored high for pesticides, as well.
When picking up tomato sauce or paste, choose the glass jar or box over the can. "The lining on the inside of food cans that’s used to protect against corrosion and bacteria may contain BPA,"
In 2009, Consumer Reports tested BPA levels in a variety of canned foods and found it in nearly all of the brands tested, suggesting that the chemical leaked in. "What can happen is that BPA in the lining can leach into the food," Walker explains.
Buy Organic: Peaches
Going organic is good for you and the Earth, but if you can't always afford it -- since organic can cost 50%-100% more -- experts recommend spending most of your organic food dollars on produce and the foods you eat most often. The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., recommends going organic on produce that is most susceptible to pesticide residue, like peaches.
Buy Organic: Apples
Apples are a good source of fiber -- especially if you eat the peel. The peel also has healthful phytochemicals that may reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease. But the peel is also where pesticides accumulate. So buying organic apples is a good use of your organic food dollars. If you can't afford to buy organic apples, scrubbing their skins under running water can help reduce pesticide residues, too.
Buy Organic: Sweet Bell Peppers
While bell peppers are among those vegetables with higher pesticide residues, the USDA makes no claims that organic foods are safer, healthier, or more nutritious than conventional foods. Government limits set safe levels of pesticide use in growing and processing foods and residue allowed on foods. Although some pesticide levels are assumed to be safe, the chemicals used are toxic. Because kids' immune systems may not be fully developed, they may be at greater risk from some pesticides than adults.
Buy Organic: Nectarines
This juicy fruit is rich in vitamins A and C, niacin, and potassium. An average-sized nectarine contains about 65 calories. Scrub or remove the peel to help reduce pesticide residues.
Buy Organic: Pears
Pears rank second to the apple as the most popular U.S. fruit. A medium-sized pear contains about 103 calories and is a good source of health-promoting vitamin C and fiber. But they frequently have higher pesticide residues than many other fruits. The USDA has found almost 30 pesticide residues on pears. It's a good idea to scrub a pear's skin to reduce pesticide residue and bacteria, even in organic pears.
Buy Organic: Grapes
Grapes are a delectable low-calorie snack or dessert. One cup contains about 104 calories and is packed with vitamins C and K. Raisins (dried grapes) are also a good source of iron. Try to avoid imported grapes, which often have higher pesticide residues, but don't eliminate them from your diet if you can't always buy organic. Consider buying organic grapes for children and if you're pregnant.
Buy Organic: Spinach & Lettuce
Spinach -- a great source of protein, vitamins A, C, E, and K, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese -- has about 7 calories a cup. Lettuce has about 5 calories per cup. But they also have high levels of pesticide residue -- the USDA Pesticide Data Program found 57 pesticide residues in spinach and 51 in lettuce. Buy organic or grow your own (greens do well even in large patio containers).
Buy Organic: Potatoes & Carrots
Potatoes are a good organic purchase -- especially since most conventional potatoes are pesticide intensive crops. They are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, manganese, and fiber. A medium-sized baked potato contains around 161 calories -- without the fixings. Sweet, crunchy carrots are loaded with vitamins A and K and are a good source of fiber.
Buy Organic: Beef
According to the Organic Trade Association, livestock on an organic farm cannot be given antibiotics or growth hormones unnecessarily -- a common practice in conventional agriculture. Some experts think using antibiotics this way may contribute to the rise of superbugs. And although the risk to humans isn't clear, added hormones do show up in supermarket beef.
Buy Organic: Peanut Butter
Kids tend to eat a lot of peanut butter, so you may want to make sure they're not ingesting chemicals along with a PB&J sandwich. And peanut butter made from just organic peanuts and salt is healthier than conventional peanut butter with added hydrogenated oils and sugar. The natural oils in organic peanut butter may separate and form a layer on top of the jar -- if so, just stir it all up so it's creamy again.
Look for the USDA Organic Seal
Don't confuse "free-range," "hormone free" or "natural" with organic. Look for the organic seal which means the food is grown, harvested, and processed according to USDA standards that include restrictions on amounts and residues of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics. Natural pesticides are allowed. Organic foods cannot be treated with any sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation.
Buy Conventional or Local: Papayas & Mangoes
The Environmental Working Group lists several foods as having the least pesticide residues and not worth spending the extra money to buy organic varieties. Tough peels on some fruits and vegetables absorb much of the pesticide. If you discard the peel, the remaining food has less pesticide residue. Papayas and mangoes are among these foods.
Buy Conventional or Local: Broccoli
The health benefits of conventionally grown produce far outweigh potential risks from pesticide exposure, so enjoy broccoli raw or cooked after washing well. Florets that are dark green, purplish, or bluish contain more beta-carotene and vitamin C than paler or yellowing ones. This vitamin C-packed veggie is also a great source of vitamins A, K, and B6, folate, potassium, and manganese. One cup of raw broccoli has about 31 calories.
Buy Conventional or Local: Cabbage
Cabbage is a great source of vitamins C, K, and B6, as well as folate and manganese. One cup of raw cabbage contains only about 22 calories. Remove and discard the outer layers to cut down on dirt, bacteria, and pesticide residues. (Avoid buying precut cabbage, as the leaves may have already lost their vitamin C.)
Buy Conventional or Local: Bananas
It is a good idea to scrub even produce with inedible skins such as bananas before eating them; that way you keep any contaminates on the skin from spreading to the edible part of the fruit. Bananas are a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and manganese, and a great source of vitamin B6. A medium banana contains about 105 calories.
Buy Conventional or Local: Kiwifruit & Pineapple
An excellent source of vitamins C and K, a medium kiwifruit contains about 46 calories. Pineapple is a great source of vitamin C and manganese. One cup of the fruit contains about 74 calories. Scrub and peel the skins of these fruits before enjoying the sweet flesh.
Buy Conventional or Local: Peas
A half cup of fresh peas contains about 55 calories and is rich in vitamins A, C, and K, thiamin, and manganese. Peas are also a good low-calorie source of protein. A 100-calorie serving of peas (about 3/4 cup) contains more protein than a whole egg or a tablespoon of peanut butter, and has less than 1 gram of fat and no cholesterol. Rinse them before preparing.
Buy Conventional or Local: Asparagus
Asparagus can be found in green and white varieties. Four cooked spears of asparagus contain about 13 calories and are a great source of protein, vitamins A, C, E, and K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese, and selenium. Wash thoroughly before preparing.
Buy Conventional or Local: Corn
A good source of thiamin and folate, one cooked ear of yellow corn contains about 111 calories. Make sure the corn husks are green, tight, and fresh looking. Pull them open a little to make sure that the ear contains tightly packed rows of plump kernels. The kernels should be smaller at the tip of each ear. Large kernels at the tip are signs of overmaturity.
Buy Conventional or Local: Avocados
Avocados are loaded with dietary fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, and folate. Avocados contain 60% more potassium per ounce than bananas. This fruit is an excellent source of healthy monounsaturated fat. While it's a good source of vitamin K and folate, an average-sized avocado packs about 227 calories. Wash and remove the skin before enjoying.
Buy Conventional or Local: Onions
A great source of vitamin C, one medium onion contains only around 44 calories. Remove the outer layers of skin before cooking or serving raw.
Understand Organic Terminology
When buying organic, look for the following USDA regulated terms on food labels:
"100% organic" This means the food has no synthetic ingredients and can use the organic seal.
"Organic" This means the food has a minimum of 95% organic ingredients. It can also use the organic seal.
"Made with organic ingredients" This means the food must contain at least 70% organic ingredients. These foods cannot use the seal.
Meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy labeled "organic" must come from animals that have never received antibiotics or growth hormones.
Standards for organic seafood and cosmetics have not been set.
At the bottom of the list is the Clean Fifteen, 15 foods that have the lowest pesticide load. If you’re on a limited budget and have to pick and chose your organic produce, EWG recommends that you spend the extra money for the Dirty Dozen in their organic form and buy the Clean Fifteen in their conventional form.
3. Sweet bell peppers
6. Imported nectarines
11. Domestic blueberries
2. Sweet corn
6. Sweet peas
11. Domestic cantaloupe
12. Sweet potatoes