Yes, they are bad, but it’s way more important to include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet than to avoid them because of pesticide concerns. Here’s a tip: If you thoroughly wash your produce with cold water and throw away the outer leaves of leafy vegetables (like romaine), you will remove most of the pesticide residue.
If you’re still worried about ingesting chemicals, buy organic varieties of the produce on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list, which highlights the conventionally grown foods that tend to have the most pesticide contamination, like strawberries, spinach, apples, and tomatoes. Load up on more foods from their “Clean Fifteen” list too, like avocados (yes!), broccoli, kiwis, and mangoes. You can find both lists on their website. As a general rule, fruits that you eat after removing the outer covering—like bananas—are less prone to pesticide contamination. And whatever you do, focus more on getting as many fruits and veggies into your diet as possible: Organic or not, these types of foods are associated with countless important health benefits, like a decreased risk of cancer, heart disease, and overall mortality.
Health’s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is an associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine and a cofounder of TULA Skincare.