If you’re concerned about toxic pesticides on your produce, you’re not alone.

More and more of us are choosing organic foods to help reduce our exposure to harmful substances. Pesticides, herbicides and other biocides can be harmful even in minute concentrations. And the effects add up over time.

These chemicals can have a range of negative health consequences for adults. But they are an even greater concern for children. And studies have shown that the levels of pesticide residues on some produce exceed the levels deemed “safe” for kids (if there is such a thing as a “safe” level of poison to consume).

Pesticides: Even a Little Can Be Harmful

According to recent research, even very small exposures to biocides in the womb and during infancy and early childhood can lead to serious health issues later in life.

  • Leukemia: A study published in Therapeutic Drug Monitoring found that mothers who were exposed to pesticides at least once had a two- to seven-times greater risk of having a child diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) – the most common form of childhood cancer – before the age of two.
  • ADHD: A 2010 Harvard study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that children with higher levels of organophosphate pesticide metabolites in their blood were twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.
  • Food Allergies: Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that people with high levels of dichlorophenol (a breakdown product of an herbicide) and chlorine (found in tap water) were more likely to have allergies to milk, eggs, seafood, and peanuts. This is likely because these chemicals kill healthy bacteria levels in the gut, which can affect the body’s immune reactions to allergens.
  • Autism: Organophosphate pesticides are neurotoxins. They work by targeting neurological systems of insects. And recent research suggests they can have similar effects on people, especially children. A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that children were six times more likely to be diagnosed with autism if their mothers had spent their early pregnancy in homes within 500 meters of fields with the highest levels of organophosphate application, compared to those not living near agricultural fields.

Should You Feed Your Kids More Fruits and Vegetables?

As the evidence on the harmful effects of pesticides continues to mount, many parents find themselves with unanswered (and unsettling) questions:

  1. Do the health benefits of fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure?
  2. Do I have to buy all organic to ensure my children are protected?
  3. How can I protect my children’s health and still stay within my budget?

The good news is that there are a few simple and cost-effective steps you can take that will eliminate nearly 90% of your family’s exposure to pesticides.

Buy Organics Selectively (But Make No Exceptions)

According to the Environmental Working Group, up to 90% of our pesticide exposure comes from 12 crops. These crops are coined “The Dirty Dozen” including:

organic raisins no pesticides

Don’t forget about dried fruits! Raisins (dried grapes) should always be organic.

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Cherry Tomatoes
  4. Cucumbers
  5. Grapes
  6. Hot Peppers
  7. Nectarines (Imported)
  8. Peaches
  9. Potatoes
  10. Spinach
  11. Strawberries
  12. Sweet Bell Peppers

Kale/collard greens and summer squash have recently been added to the list, due to high levels of organochlorine pesticides.

When it comes to the foods listed above, you should ALWAYS buy organic. It is important to note that these foods are also the ones most commonly found in baby foods and snacks. Be sure to read labels on packaged foods and ensure that the above listed foods are “organic”.

berries pesticides

Be sure to wash your berries well, but ALWAYS buy organic. Berries are a highly contaminated crop on “The Dirty Dozen”

Eliminate Residual Contaminants with Two Simple Steps

For foods that are not classified as “The Dirty Dozen”, you can reduce or eliminate residues and bacteria with two easy steps.

First, remove the outside leaves or peel – the outer surface is likely to have the highest concentration of pesticide residue.

Next, use a vegetable wash and rinse thoroughly. While commercial veggie washes are widely available, you can make your own at home for pennies. It’s completely safe, nontoxic, and won’t affect the taste of your fruits or vegetables. Here are three simple homemade fruit and vegetable wash recipes to have on hand

Protecting your family starts with knowledge. Always buy organic produce when it comes to the fruits and veggies listed on the Dirty Dozen. And be sure to wash all produce well to remove any lingering contaminants. By following these two simple steps, you’ll go a long way to guarding against the harmful effects of chemicals, without breaking the bank!