These are the 12 fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides -- but that's not the whole story

Nobody likes the idea of consuming brain-damaging or fertility-reducing chemicals when you eat a stick of celery or a piece of fruit.

So when the Environmental Working Group publishes its annual list of the fruits and vegetables that contain the highest levels of pesticides, consumers take notice.

The group’s annual Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists are based off USDA data about pesticide use and residues.

“In general, produce with a thick outer peel that you don’t eat is going to have less pesticide residues than leafy greens or produce with a soft and edible skin,” Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst at Environmental Working Group, said in a video released this week along with the new list.

While a spinach leaf or strawberry may have more traces of pesticides on it than, say, a hard-skinned avocado or pineapple, the available data doesn’t suggest you should stop eating any fruits or veggies out of pesticide-related fears.

In 2011, a pair of food scientists slammed the EWG’s annual Dirty Dozen report in a study published in the Journal of Toxicology, and the World Health Organisation has said “the EWG is using fear, not facts” to create their lists.

In the 2011 study, the food scientists found that the levels of pesticides people may get exposed to when eating fruits and vegetables are extremely low – well below the levels the Environmental Protection Agency thinks are harmful. In fact, the amount of pesticide on the produce you eat is likely a hundred times lower than the smallest dose that is harmful to laboratory animals for most chemicals.

For example, the scientists found that pesticide exposure estimates for the 10 most commonly detected chemicals on spinach are thousands of times – if not tens of thousands – lower than the levels the EPA considers worrisome.

Buying organic produce may not help you avoid pesticides, either. In fact, as the American Council on Science and Health points out, there’s more regulation for conventional pesticides than the ones certified for organic use.

While there is some early evidence that women undergoing infertility treatment may want to avoid pesticide-heavy doses of produce like spinach and strawberries, other data that suggests men hoping to conceive may want to eat more produce, since that can improve a man’s sperm count.

The truth is that having more fruits and vegetables in your diet boosts your overall health. Adding more produce to your palate can reduce your risk of developing heart disease and breast cancer, and can also help keep you more satiated throughout the day.

EWG’s full Dirty Dozen list – which ranks the foods likely to contain the highest doses of pesticides (but not necessarily the most harmful pesticides) – is below. However, we’ve also listed some health benefits associated with each of those foods, since this list shouldn’t deter you from buying them.


Strawberries

A single cup of strawberries will provide you more than an entire day’s recommended dose of Vitamin C.


Spinach

Spinach is one of the most nutritious salad leaves out there. It’s got plenty of potassium and iron, and can help keep your blood pressure in check.

It’s important to wash spinach well before you eat it, though, because it can be susceptible to picking up E. coli contamination.


Nectarines

ShutterstockSliced nectarines.

Like many other fruits on this list, nectarines are high in fibre and vitamin C.

Plus, their orange-red hue means that like carrots, they have got a high concentration of the antioxidant beta carotene, which keeps DNA healthy and boosts our immune system.


Apples

Shutterstock

Apples have lots of Vitamin C and a good dose of fibre. The bulk of the fibre comes from the peel, so make sure to leave the skin on.


Grapes

Red grapes are one of the best fruits for staving off type 2 diabetes. Their high levels of anthocyanin flavonoids (plant pigment chemicals) help nix free radicals in the body, which can damage DNA and contribute to cancer.


Peaches

Slicing into a fresh, juicy peach is almost like swallowing a multivitamin. They’re high in vitamins C, A, E, and K, and also provide a decent amount of potassium, magnesium, and iron.


Cherries

Cherries are great cell-protecting sweet treats. Eating just 14 cherries will give you 20% of your daily dose of antioxidants, as the BBC reports.


Pears

Pears are like nature’s laxative. Because the fruits are extremely high in fibre (a medium-sized pear can pack about 24% of your daily dose), they can be fabulous natural way to loosen things up.

Australian scientists think Korean pear juice could even be a miracle cure for a hangover, but you have to drink the juice before you imbibe to get any potential benefits.


Tomatoes

Cooked tomatoes carry sizeable doses of lycopene, a fat-soluble pigment that has been linked with lower rates of cancer and heart disease.


Celery

A crunchy stick of celery can be a great way to satisfy hunger because it has a ton of fibre. A single medium-sized stalk has about 2% of your daily fibre dose.


Potatoes

Potatoes are a good source of both potassium and vitamin C. Leave the skins on when you cook them to get the most satiating fibre.


Bell peppers and hot peppers

Bell peppers have almost twice the amount of vitamin C that an orange offers. Hot peppers also fuel us with the compound capsaicin, which helps the body break down fat and is a natural pain reliever.

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