By: Rachel Neifeld, RD, CDN

Pregnant women may want to think twice about taste-testing that juicy grape at the market, based on the results of this year’s updated “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce,” by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). A single grape tested positive for 15 pesticides and replaced spinach as the number five most pesticide-tainted produce item on grocery store shelves this year. 

The EWG reported finding “striking” differences between the number of pesticides and residues found on the most pesticide-heavy fruits and vegetables versus the cleanest. Even though apples and celery still hold the number one and two spots as the most pesticide-tainted produce this year, it’s still worth checking out the updated list as there are new additions to the “Dirty Dozen” such as cucumbers, hot peppers, and cherry tomatoes, which takes third place as the “dirtiest” fruit on the market.  On the bright side, there is some produce that has moved up on the “Clean Fifteen” list including asparagus, avocados, cabbage, cantaloupe, and corn.

Pesticides should be avoided, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy, due to the negative effects they may have on a baby’s rapidly developing nervous system. A large study published in a 2011 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, found that children of women with the highest pesticide exposure had lower I.Q. scores once they reached school age. Every 10-fold increase in organophosphate exposure detected during pregnancy corresponded to a 5.5 point drop in overall I.Q. scores.

This gives moms-to-be a good reason to purchase organic varieties or to thoroughly wash produce found on the “Dirty Dozen” list.  A good way to clean produce is by filling a spray bottle with three cups of water and one cup of white vinegar and squirting produce about six times to coat the surface, then rinsing under cold water to wash the residual vinegar (and worries of contamination) away.

The advice from the EWG remains that eating fruits and vegetables, regardless of their ranking on the list, is more important than eating fewer or decreasing the variety of fruits and vegetables in one’s diet. This way pregnant women won’t miss out on the wealth of phytonutrients found in apples, the excellent source of vitamin C in celery, and the great vegetarian source of iron found in spinach.

While it is optimal to choose organic over nonorganic when buying these foods, concerns over pesticide exposure should not prevent women from consuming them, according to the EWG. The benefits of these nutrient-rich foods are far-reaching and essential for pregnant women and their growing babies. Just be sure to clean produce thoroughly before eating to wash away contaminants along with worries over pesky pesticides.