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Is buying organic the only way to avoid chemicals?

You can avoid pesticides by buying only organic food. Or you could buy organic versions of only the foods you eat most often or of only those foods that have the most pesticides when grown on traditional farms.

The following fruits and vegetables generally have the highest pesticide levels:

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries and blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Bell peppers
  • Green beans
  • Cucumbers
  • Potatoes
  • Leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, and kale

When you buy commercially grown produce, take these steps to lower the amount of pesticides on your food:

  • Wash raw fruits and vegetables under running water before eating them. Use a scrub brush when it will not bruise the food. Otherwise rub the food by hand to clean it.
  • Peel apples, nectarines, peaches, cucumbers, and potatoes, especially before you give them to children.
  • Throw away the outer leaves of head lettuce and cabbage.

Remember that eating nonorganic fruits and vegetables, even those with higher pesticide levels, is better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.

Organic foods are free of chemicals like hormones and antibiotics. But you can also find chemical-free foods that aren't organic. For example, look for:

  • Meat and poultry labeled "No antibiotics administered/USDA process certified." This means that the USDA has confirmed that the animals were raised without antibiotics. Labels such as "no antibiotics" or "raised without antibiotics" may be accurate, but they have not been verified by the USDA.
  • Milk labeled "rBGH-free" or"rBST-free." This is the producer's promise that it does not contain these artificial hormones.

Another option is to buy from local farms and ranches, whether they're certified organic or not. Many small farms use organic methods but can't afford to become certified. Food from local farms is also likely to be fresher, which means it will taste better and may even cost less. Visit farmers' markets to find locally grown food.

Quick Tips: Shopping for Organic and Chemical-Free Foods

What does GMO mean?

GMO stands for "genetically modified organism," which is a plant or animal whose DNA has been changed in a lab. Another term for this is genetic engineering (GE). Scientists can take genes from one type of organism and put them in another. Many people believe that GMOs make food healthier or last longer. But some people worry that not enough testing has been done to know whether GMOs are harmful.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

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