Organic Fruits Vegetables - Most Pesticides, Least Pesticides

The concern implicit in this question is about pesticides, and it is a real one. The Environmental Protection Agency has reported that the majority of pesticides now in use are probable or possible causes of cancer. Studies of farm workers who work with pesticides suggest a link between pesticide use and brain cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple myeloma, leukemia, lymphoma, and cancers of the stomach and prostate.1 However, does the low level of pesticides remaining on our food present much of a risk?

Some scientists argue that the extremely low level of pesticide residue remaining on produce is insignificant and that there are naturally occurring toxins in all natural foods that are more significant. The large amount of studies performed on the typical pesticide-treated produce have demonstrated that consumption of produce, whether organic or not, is related to lower rates of cancer and increased disease protection. In short, it is better to eat fruits and vegetables grown and harvested using pesticides than not to eat them at all. The health benefits of eating phytochemically-rich produce greatly outweigh any risks pesticide residues might pose. That said, it should be recognized that fruits and vegetables are not all subject to the same pesticide exposure. The below chart shows the pesticide breakdown by food, but it is alphabetized and not in order of pesticide content. Spinach, strawberries and celery have the most pesticide residue and are the most important foods to consume organically grown.


If it is available, organic food is certainly your best bet to limit exposure to toxic chemicals. If you can eat only organic versions of the top 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables, you can reduce your pesticide exposure by about 90 percent. In addition, organic foods usually have more nutrients than their conventional counterparts.2 They also taste better and are generally better for farmers and the environment.

This is an excerpt from Dr. Fuhrman’s book Eat For Health.

1. Sanderson W.T., Talaska G, Zaebst D, et al. Pesticide prioritization for a brain cancer case control study. Environ Res. 1997;74(2):133-144. Zahm SH, Blair A. Cancer among migrant and seasonal farmworkers: an epidemiologic review and research agenda. Am J Ind Med 1993;24(6): 753-766.

2. Worthington V. Nutritional quality of organic versus conventional fruits, vegetables and grains. J Alt Coml Med 2001;7(2):161-173. Grinder-Pederson L, Rasmussen SE, Bugel S, et al. Effect of diets based on foods from conventional versus organic production on intake and excretion of flavonoids and markers of antioxidative defense in humans. J Agric Food Chem. 2003;51(19): 5671-5676.

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Lindy - September 17, 2009 5:50 AM

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, especially the other day when I was standing at the fruit 'n veg section of our local supermarket, comparing some organically grown cauliflower with regular cauliflower. The organic cauliflower, which was imported, was covered in brown spots and looked somewhat sweaty and travel-weary in its plastic wrapping, while the non-organic cauliflower, which came from a farm in the next town, was crisp, white and robust, and (did I imagine it?) still covered in dew! I think it was Michael Pollan who gave the best advice: choose locally grown produce first, then organically grown, and non-organic/non-local as a last resort. Of course, when I find produce that is both organically grown AND locally produced, I feel as if I have hit the jackpot. However, living in northern Europe as I do, this doesn't happen very often during the long winter months.

Leo Quan - October 6, 2009 9:24 PM

You can go to to get the 2009 update to the dirty dozen. It's only slightly different than the list published in the book. Here it is in alphabetical order:

Grapes - Imported
Sweet Bell Pepper

Sweet Corn - Frozen
Sweet Peas - Frozen

marjorie firth - October 18, 2009 8:21 PM

I wonder if cranberries are alright to eat for diabetics.

please advise as I love cranberries but find my levels are higher if I eat them for breakfast

rebecca - November 22, 2009 11:33 AM

Hi marjorie--i'm no doctor but if you find that doing something raises your you eat them frozen/fresh or juice-sweetened dried?

Vladimir - March 11, 2010 3:12 PM

Wow, you did a good job on this article. Good to know info about the Most and Least pesticide containing foods.

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