How to Reduce Your Exposure to Pesticides

It's a good idea to mimimize your exposure to pesticides. But you might be surprised to find out where they are (and aren't) lurking.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #284

According to a recent survey, three-quarters of American shoppers are worried about pesticides in the food supply, a concern that no doubt sells a lot of organic food

I agree that it's a good idea to minimize your exposure to pesticidesBut I think many of us are focusing our pesticide-avoidance efforts in the wrong place. >

Pesticides Are Harmful to Health

There's no question that pesticides can be harmful to humans and other life forms. Exposure to high levels of pesticides has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and other damage to tissues and organs. Pesticides (or the compounds they break down into) can also disrupt hormone function, affecting fertility, reproduction, growth, and development. We've already seen the effects of pesticides on other life forms - everything from honeybees to fish to frogs.  

When it comes to pesticide exposure, what's in your salad may actually be the least of your concerns. 

That's why Mom straps Junior into his organic hemp snuggli every Saturday morning and heads off to the farmer's market to round up a week's worth of organic produce and to make sure that free range chickens are eating only organic grubs. That's why many of you have memorized the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean 15" lists of the produce with the highest and lowest pesticide residues.  

But when it comes to pesticide exposure, what's in your reusable grocery bag may actually be the least of your concerns. 

Are the "Dirty Dozen" Not so Dirty After All?

Carl Winter, a scientist at the University of California, Davis, recently pointed out that the amount of pesticides you' be exposed to from eating Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables is vanishingly small. Although it may be true that substituting organic versions of these 12 foods could reduce your exposure by up to 80%, this wouldn't have any impact on your health or disease risk, because the amounts are so small to begin with.

Although I have mentioned the Dirty Dozen as a way of prioritizing your organic purchases, I've also tried to make it clear that eating fruits, vegetables, and other whole, minimally processed foods is far more important than making sure they are all organic. 

See also: Putting Pesticide Concerns in Perspective


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.