What could be purer than a single ingredient?
As health-minded consumers work to avoid processed meals and turn their focus to whole foods, we may find ourselves picking up fruits and veggies more often. The average American currently eats about 100 pounds of fresh produce per year, but that number could be a lot higher. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends adults eat two to three daily servings of fruits and veggies, only one-third of us meet that recommendation.
Clearly, nothing should deter efforts to consume more fresh produce, the healthfulness of which is undeniable. But, as the latest iteration of an annual report reveals, there are some other considerations that health-conscious consumers must face from the supermarket aisle.
For the eighth year in a row, the nonprofit advocacy organization Environmental Working Group has released their list of the twelve most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables on the market as part of their 2012 Shoppers Guide. Overall, they found that 68 percent of the food samples tested had detectable pesticide residues -- even after they had been washed or peeled. Many of the fruits and vegetables listed this year will look familiar to those who follow the yearly report -- apples, celery and bell peppers once again top the list.
Certain pesticides have been identified as potential carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and have been associated with learning and developmental delays in children.
"Organophosphate pesticides are of special concern since they are associated with neurodevelopmental effects in children,” said EWG toxicologist Johanna Congleton in a statement. “Infants in particular should avoid exposure to these pesticides since they are more susceptible to the effects of chemical insult than adults."
Indeed, new research into the pesticide loads of baby food purees made with green beans, sweet potatoes and pears showed high contamination rates in both green beans and pears. Sweet potatoes, by contrast, had virtually no trace of pesticides.
To learn more about individual pesticides and health risks, check out the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's report on human exposure.
To compile the rankings, EWG researchers looked at 45 popular fruits and vegetables based on pesticide-load reports conducted by the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. The database includes 60,700 samples taken over a 10 year period, beginning in 2000. It's important to note that all of the testing is conducted on fruits and vegetables that have been washed and/or peeled -- the typical precautions taken by American consumers.
The researchers factor in how many of the samples test positively for detectable pesticides, how many have more than two discrete pesticides, the concentration (measured by parts per million) of the pesticides found and the highest number of pesticides found in any single sample. The researchers also looked at the total pesticide load of the fruit or vegetable crop as a whole.
And while the list is comprehensive, the ranking doesn't capture all information: For example, though apples were ranked as the most contaminated overall, imported nectarines had the unique distinction of having a full 100 percent rate of positive pesticide test results, above any other product. Bell peppers and grapes were both commonly contaminated with 15 different pesticides in a single sample -- the highest overall diversity of contamination.
Still, even the researchers who conducted the pesticide exposure studies don't recommend giving up the "Dirty Dozen" outright.
"The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure," they wrote, recommending instead that consumers purchase organic options wherever available and then choose items from the concurrent "Clean 15" list that details which fruits and veggies have the lowest pesticide loads and residues.