Share this content

Nobody will likely tell you to consume more pesticides, yet every single day, the average American eats foods that are sprayed with these nasty chemicals. The questions I get often from my patients about organic foods and pesticides are, “what should I buy organic?”, and “when can I save some money and buy non-organic products?

It is hard to get statistics on the source of pesticides in the American food supply, but up to 80% of pesticides consumed by Americans today have been reported by non-governmental agencies (national groups promoting healthy eating) to come from eating meat, poultry, and dairy.

I was recently asked to speak at a physician education meeting on cancer and nutrition, and I had a challenging time researching this topic. I spoke to nearly a dozen people working for the FDA and couldn’t get a detailed answer on sources for pesticides.

We have known for some time that the more pesticides you consume, the greater your risk for cancer, which does not seem like a surprise.

But in researching for my new book, The Better Brain Solution, I was very surprised to discover that those who had the highest pesticide levels in their blood had a whopping 350% greater risk of getting dementia than people with low levels.  Another study published in Taiwan found that even a single acute incident of heavy pesticide exposure would double a person’s lifetime risk for dementia.

Why is pesticide exposure higher in animal protein than on vegetables? Because pesticides accumulate in animals in their fatty tissues over their lifetime. If you eat this animal fat, you consume that accumulated exposure all at once. With vegetables, some of the pesticides will wash away and they don’t accumulate nearly as much over time.

So if you really want to decrease your pesticide intake, start by either going vegetarian or avoiding animal protein unless it comes from wild or organically raised sources. This includes beef, pork, poultry, eggs, and dairy products—especially if you are eating the fat. If you would like a source of animal protein that is organically and pasture raised, consider Butcher Box. They offer grass-fed and pasture-raised organic animal protein options. Click this link HERE to see for yourself.

With fruits and vegetables, an easy way to limit your pesticide exposure is to identify the dirty dozen list, created by the Environmental working group.

Produce with the highest levels of pesticides includes:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Peaches
  6. Pears
  7. Cherries
  8. Grapes
  9. Celery
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Sweet Bell Peppers
  12. Potatoes

For these foods, pick organic whenever possible.

If you are concerned that buying organic food is going to bust your budget, then buy foods from the Environmental Working Group’s “Clean 15”, as these foods are the least likely to have been sprayed with pesticides.

Clean Fifteen foods that you DO NOT need to buy organic include:

  1. Avocado
  2. Pineapple
  3. Cabbage
  4. Onions
  5. Sweet Peas
  6. Papaya
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mango
  9. Eggplant
  10. Honeydew Melon
  11. Kiwi
  12. Cantaloupe
  13. Cauliflower
  14. Grapefruit

#15 on the list is corn.

I am separating out corn because even though it may not be sprayed with pesticides, some GMO (genetically modified corn) corn can produce its own pesticides internally. So even though it isn’t sprayed, it could potentially be harmful. I only recommend non-GMO corn, differing from the Environmental Working Group’s recommendations.

Other products that are not on the toxic list from the Environmental Working Group, but are heavily sprayed, include coffee and tea. If you drink coffee and/or tea, buying it organic is better for you, the growers, and for the environment.

Can’t you just wash off the pesticides and not worry about organic products?

With fruits and vegetables, you can wash away some, but not all of the pesticides. Here is what I do with produce in my kitchen after shopping.

  1. First I fill the sink with cold water and I add hand soap. Then I wash all the organic produce and then rinse off the soap and set aside. Lastly, I put the washed produce in the refrigerator or in a basket on the kitchen counter (such as tomatoes).
  2. Then I rinse the non-organic produce in the same soapy water and rinse off the soap. Lastly, putting away this second round of washed produce.

This process obviously won’t work with meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy, as the pesticides are in the fat of the animal protein—you can’t just wash them away.

One strategy to lower your pesticide intake if you can’t find organically raised animal protein, is to buy lean instead, as most of the pesticides are in the fat. Non-fat dairy means far less pesticides, leaner cuts of meat and poultry have less as well.

You don’t have to break the bank to eat healthy food. But you do need to pay attention to the food you buy.  I hope these tips will help you and your family avoid toxic chemicals found in your own food.

I wish you the best of health!

Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP, CNS