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The best and the worst produce picks

By Kelley Shirazi

All parents want the best for their children, and nutrition is no exception. The organic movement has introduced consumers to the delights of chemical-free food as well as the dangers of the pesticides and herbicides used on conventionally grown food. And while many of us have a sense of these dangers, details are still relatively hard to find.

Organic food can be expensive. If you can’t afford to buy 100% organic and are obliged to do some compromising, it’s important to know which foods pose a higher risk than others. We’ve compiled a list of the top twelve best and worst conventional produce picks, based on studies from the Consumers Union and the Environmental Workers Group.


Peaches Peaches contain high levels of endocrine disruptors and organophosphates (OPs) (see the glossary below for definitions).

Apples Apples may be sprayed with methyl parathion, an endocrine disruptor. Both fresh apples and baby food applesauce can also contain organophosphates (OPs).

Pears Pears, both fresh and in baby food, can be treated with methyl parathion as well as an OP that has been found to be toxic to freshwater fish, amphibians and bees.

Winter squash Conventionally grown winter squash contains carcinogenic insecticides as well as DDT and its breakdown, DDE.

Green beans Green beans can contain three neurotoxic OPs and endosulfan, an endocrine-disrupting insecticide that can show up in baby food, too.

Grapes U.S.-grown grapes contain methyl parathion and methomyl, both listed as endocrine disruptors.

Strawberries The enhanced red color of strawberries comes from the fungicide captan, a probable human carcinogen that can irritate skin and eyes and is highly toxic to fish. While the lethal soil fumigant methyl bromide doesn’t show up on strawberries, it has harmed California farm workers and depletes the ozone layer.

Raspberries These berries can contain captan and iprodione, both endocrine disruptors.

Spinach While toxic residues of carcinogenic insecticides on spinach have been declining, DDT has still been found on spinach at exceedingly high levels.

Potatoes Pesticide use on potatoes has been growing. Children eating potatoes risk ingesting high doses of aldicarb, a sulphur-containing chemical used as an insecticide to kill nematode worms.

Cantaloupe Cantaloupe has been found to be high in OPs and other pesticide residues.

Tomatoes Tomatoes also have high OP and pesticide residues.

These conventionally grown foods have been shown to have consistently low pesticide residues.

• Asparagus
• Avocados
• Bananas
• Broccoli
• Cauliflower
• Corn (sweet)
• Kiwi
• Mangos
• Onions
• Papaya
• Pineapples
• Peas (sweet)

What if organic foods are not available?
There are some steps you can take to help lower your risk of pesticide exposure. Peel foods you would normally only rinse, such as apples and pears. Look for seasonal, locally grown food, which are often less likely to have been heavily treated. Check to see if your community has an organic farm available to the public or a farmer’s market. Finally, make sure to wash all your vegetables and fruits thoroughly.


Carcinogens Carcinogens are substances that have been shown to cause cancer.

Endocrine disruptors Endocrine disruptors (hormone disruptors, xenoestrogens) are substances that are capable of interfering with hormones by mimicking them, blocking them or otherwise changing normal hormone behavior. Endocrine disruptors can cause harm to a number of systems in the body.

Organophosphates (OPs) OPs are a class of insecticides that harm the central nervous system and brain by blocking an enzyme (cholinesterase) that is crucial in transmitting nerve signals. Generally, OP insecticides are the most acutely toxic insecticides to mammals and fish. These chemicals are related to nerve gases developed for use as chemical weapons.

Neutotoxins The often exquisitely toxic substances inhibit neuron function. Neurotoxins typically act against the sodium channel or block or enhance synaptic transmission.

For more information on how to reduce the health risks to children due to toxic exposure, please visit the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition at

Kelley Shirazi’s interest in natural health and nutrition started in college, when she studied herbology and holistic health along with her women’s studies major. See more about Kelley.

The information appearing at Natural Family Online™ is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please review the rest of our disclaimer and user agreement.

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