Are You Ingesting Pesticides?

A new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives predicts that a persons pesticide exposure can be based on information about their usual diet. This study supports the belief that health-conscious people understand the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables but may not be aware of the pesticides they are ingesting.

Forty-five hundred people from six U.S. cities were analyzed for their dietary exposure to organophosphates or OPs. These OPs are the most common insecticides used on conventionally grown produce in the United States and are linked to a number of detrimental health affects particularly among agricultural workers who are regularly exposed to the chemicals.

The study also included dietary data that was collected from participants of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. This multi-institutional project was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute which is also investigating factors that influence the onset of cardiovascular disease.

The Results

  • Among those eating similar fruits and vegetables, those that consumed organic produce showed significantly lower OP pesticide exposures than those consuming conventionally grown produce.

  • Consuming conventionally grown foods typically treated with more of these pesticides during production such as apples, peaches and nectarines was associated with higher levels of exposure.

  • Researchers were able to predict each participants exposure to OP pesticides based on the amount and type of produce they typically ate as well as the U.S. Department of Agricultures measurements of pesticide residue levels on those foods.


For most Americans, diet is the primary source of OP pesticide exposure, said study leader Cynthia Curl, assistant professor in Boise State Universitys School of Allied Health Studies. The study suggests that by eating organically grown versions of those foods highest in pesticide residues, we can make a measurable difference in the levels of pesticides in our bodies. If we can predict pesticide exposure using dietary questionnaire data, then we may be able to understand the potential health effects of dietary exposure to pesticides without having to collect biological samples from people. That will allow research on organic food to be less expensive and less invasive.

Curl says that the next step is to use these exposure predictions to examine the relationship between dietary exposure to pesticides and health outcomes including neurological and cognitive endpoints. Well be able to do that in this same population of nearly 4,500 people, she continued. One way people can reduce their pesticide exposure is to eat organic versions of those foods that are listed on the Environmental Working Groups Dirty Dozen List which ranks fruits and vegetables according to pesticide residue level.

The Dirty Dozen

The Environmental Working Group analyzed pesticide residue testing data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration to come up with rankings for these popular fresh produce items. All 48 foods are listed from worst to best: the lower the number the more pesticides. EWG analyzed pesticide tests of 48 popular produce items. Domestic and imported versions of three items - nectarines, blueberries and snap peas - showed sharply different results, so those domestic and imported items were ranked separately. As a result, the full list of foods ranked by the Shopper's Guide displays 51 entries.

1 Apples

2 Strawberries

3 Grapes

4 Celery

5 Peaches

6 Spinach

7 Sweet Bell Peppers

8 Imported Nectarines

9 Cucumbers

10 Cherry Tomatoes

11 Imported Snap Peas

12 Potatoes

13 Hot Peppers

14 Domestic Blueberries

15 Lettuce

16 Kale/Collard Greens

17 Plums

18 Cherries

19 Domestic Nectarines

20 Pears

21 Tangerines

22 Carrots

23 Imported Blueberries

24 Green Beans

25 Winter Squash

26 Summer Squash

27 Raspberries

28 Broccoli

29 Domestic Snap Peas

30 Green Onions

31 Oranges

32 - Bananas

33 Tomatoes

34 Watermelon

35 Honeydew Melons

36 Mushrooms

37 Sweet Potatoes

38 Cauliflower

39 Cantaloupe

40 Grapefruit

41 Eggplant

42 Kiwi

43 Papayas

44 Mangoes

45 Asparagus

46 Onions

47 Frozen Sweet Peas

48 Cabbage

49 Pineapples

50 Sweet Corn

51 - Avocados

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