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:
- Sweet Bell Peppers
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:
- Sweet Peas
- Honeydew Melon
#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.
- 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).
- 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
Blueberries are not on either list. I wonder where they fall.
Tony, Good question.
Blueberries should be on the dirty dozen list. Wild huckleberries (or wild blueberries) are usually clean and would be on the clean list.
Steven Masley, MD
Thanks for this article. It is nice to have a list to pass on to people.
I use vinegar to soak my food in like berries. It doesn’t leave a taste .
Dr. Masley always makes living healthy and eating well as simple as having common sense. Once everyone takes the time to be educated and knowledgeable about how to be healthy, then it’s up to each individual to do what needs to be done. Being healthy is a win/win for everyone!
What supplements can we consider to help detox pesticides? I would think of chlorella, spirulina, mushrooms.
My favorite supplements to help remove toxins includes: Curcumin, broccoli sprouts, milk thistle, N-acetyl cysteine, chlorella, and fiber, plus foods like cruciferous vegetables, onions, and garlic.
Very good info, we all need to take care as it directly affects our health.
Thank you so much for your informative E-mails.
Would baking soda help to detox pesticides?
Pesticides are fat soluble, so better is something like soap to wash the pesticides away.
Steven Masley, MD
Thank you for being a “trusted source” ! Please give us some info on pesticides on or in dried and canned beans, peas and lentils. Thanks!
Beans, peas, and lentils are not a big source of pesticides–pretty clean. The challenge with canned beans is to buy BPA free canned beans.
Steven Masley, MD
What soap do you use? So many have SLS which is a dangerous chemical too! I’ve been using vinegar and water. Is this a good method?
Most pesticides are fat soluble, so baking soda and vinegar won’t be enough to remove them. I share your concern regarding commercial soaps that may have toxins. I typically buy some hand soap at the health food store that I rinse with my fruits and vegetables when I bring them home from the store. Soap does help to remove toxins. When buying the dirty dozen foods, remember that cucumbers and apples often have wax on them, making it very difficult to remove pesticides; hence buying these types of foods organic is very important.
Steven Masley, MD
Thank you for this valuable information. I will follow it.
Thank you for this important information. I buy mostly organic, but I see I can do a little better and this article will be an excellent guide.
Love You Dr. Masley! Thank You So Very Much For You True Humanitarian Soul!!! You Are A Life Saver and True Physician. One Who Has Taken On The Herculean Task Of Countering The Tide Of Irresponsibility And Greed, With Complete Disregard For Humanity(the consumers world wide). Your Research, Hard Work, Ability And Willingness To Reach Out, Make You, A LIVES SAVER. A HERO!!! I am a retired Fireman, And I Truly Appreciate You And What You Do!!! THANK YOU!!! And MANY BLESSINGS. J.B.M.II
Thank you for the deep clarity, of what type of nutrition we need for the support of our minds and bodies.
You are are appreciated.
Hi Dr.Masley! This is a fascinating article, especially considering that I have grapes, spinach, rotisserie chicken, and Apples in my kitchen. Along with those items, their are an additional amount of items that are on your list of having pesticides. My question is this: Is their an app that you use while shopping for food at the grocery store that can tell you how healthy your selections are?
Hi Ben, I do not use an app when shopping, but I like your idea. You can follow the Environmental Working Group list of dirty dozen foods, and their clean fifteen, to guide you when shopping. Steven Masley, MD
Thank you for the info. some of this I, knew, others that I, did not know and was happy to add the new info to my lists. It all helps. My health is more important than the cost .
In non fat dairy like cow’s skim milk the amount of sugar is increased. Isn’t that harmful?
Some times they add thickeners to non fat milk, and these thickeners may be sources of refined carbs. Dairy products with added sugar should be avoided.
As long as cow’s milk is organic, I’m far less concerned about the fat content. Non fat (actually 5% fat), low fat (actually 35% fat), or whole milk (53% fat)are ok with me if they don’t have additives. You have to read the label. I’ll leave it up to your personal preference. I don’t think of organic dairy fat as harmful; more accurate would be to say it likely doesn’t have many health benefits and the overall effect is fairly neutral.
Steven Masley, MD
One of the best investments I ever made was to buy a small counter-top ozonator for using when I wash my fruits & vetables. As soon as I get my produce home, I place it in the sink, fill the sink with water and drop the tube from my ozonator into the sink, and turn on the ozonator for about 5 minutes. The ozone is supposed to destroy the pesticides and the ozone breaks down into oxygen which helps to increase the shelf life of the produce.