3 Practical Ways To Reduce Pesticide Exposure On A Plant Based Diet

We all know the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

But what about the pesticides that are on conventionally grown plants?

Is it better to stick to a diet largely based on animal products to avoid these chemicals?



First of all pesticides are toxic and they are intended to be such. They are made and used to kill living species including insects and fungi that are considered by farmers to be pests to their crops.

Effects of Organophosphate Pesticides

Although research into pesticide residues and health is not something usually funded by big corporations that have monetary gain, and sadly this does not leave much funding for research on this topic, but from the studies conducted we can see that pesticide residues have been scientifically linked to cancer, neurological disorders, hormone disruption and allergies.

Many pesticides are potent nerve agents and even at relatively low levels may be hazardous to human health.

Repeated exposure to such pesticides may result in impaired memory and concentration, disorientation, depression, irritability, confusion, headaches, delayed reaction time, drowsiness, and insomnia.

Pesticides inhibit the action of the neurotransmitter enzymes in nerve cells and thereby have a neurotoxic effect on nerve cells.

Fetuses and young children, where brain development is at its peak, are most at risk.

Research shows a clear link between a mother’s exposure to pesticides during pregnancy and lower intelligence scores, [6] perceptual reasoning problems and more in children aged 6 to 9.

In May 2010, researchers at Harvard University found increased risk for attention deficit-hyperactive disorder among American children exposed to typical levels of pesticides.

Pesticides are also disastrous for the environment. 

Modern agriculture with its large scale use of pesticides is responsible for 70 percent of water pollution in the United States.

Glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient, is the most widely used pesticide in the United States.  About 100 million pounds are applied to U.S. farms and lawns every year, according to the EPA (environmental protection agency). Glyphosate was found to be a possible carcinogen (cancer promoting agent) in humans.

The CDC’s national biomonitoring program has detected pesticide residues in blood and urine samples of 96 percent of Americans aged 6 and older.6

More than 60 percent of Americans tested positive for seven or more of the 28 pesticides that contaminate fresh fruits and vegetables.

So the question arises: Should we still consume plant based foods with all these chemicals involved?

The answer is a definite yes!

Consuming a plant based diet has immense benefits to human health.

But, and unfortunately there is a “BUT”

We should aim to reduce our pesticide exposure through certain practices. Here are three practical ways to do this:

1. Buy Organic

We can do this by buying organically grown produce which are produced without synthetic chemicals or fertilizers, without genetic engineering, without radiation and without sewage sludge. But not only that. Buying organic also supports environmentally friendly farming practices that minimize soil erosion, safeguard workers, and protect water quality and wildlife and the future of our planet. Research studies have shown that pesticide exposures drop dramatically when people switch to an all-organic diet, and when they return to eating non-organic, conventionally grown foods exposure rebounds.7

Unfortunately, I know that this option is not always available for everyone due to the costs involved.

But we know that consuming lots of vegetables and fruits outweighs the risks of pesticide exposure.

So what can you do?

Although basic washing methods will somewhat reduce pesticide levels, it is still not enough because the USDA tests for pesticides on washed and peeled produce in most states.

But you can go beyond basic washing methods to further reduce pesticide using a more thorough washing method:

Swirl your produce in a diluted solution of 1 tsp Castile per gallon, or 4 liters of water for 10 seconds, then rinse with slightly warm water. For fruits and vegetables that you can brush such as apples and pears, use a soft brush and scrub the food with the solution for about 5 to 10 seconds, then rinse with slightly warm water.

Unfortunately washing food is not a real longterm solution as some modern pesticides are taken up by a plant’s roots and distributed throughout the plant.

2. Learn which foods have higher pesticide residue levels and aim to buy these foods organic.

Every year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) an American non-profit (501(c)(3) environmental organization specializing in research of toxic chemicals to protect the public and the environment, releases a list of the foods that were found to have the highest pesticide residue levels after basic washing and regular preparation before consumption.

Much of the health risks associated with pesticide residues on produce are concentrated in a relatively small number of fruits and vegetables. By knowing which foods have highest levels of pesticide residues, its easier to make wiser choices such as buying these foods from organic farms.

Here is the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen list for 2017 (Opt to Buy at least These foods Organic):











•Sweet bell peppers


•Hot Peppers

•I also recommend buying your whole grains and legumes organic due to extensive use of roundup before harvesting in order to dry the plants and prepare the fields for the next round of crops.

If even buying these foods organic seems like something that is out of reach, now there is a company called Thrive market where you can buy natural products at up to half the retail prices. It is an online store which delivers your products right to your door. Download the “Thrive Market – Organic Healthy Food Delivery” app and you can shop from anywhere, any time and at very reasonable prices.

3. Grow your own foods

You always have the option to grow foods with high pesticide levels in your own in your backyard. A small garden plot can provide much of the required produce for a family of four if planned correctly.

Planting perennial crops that are alive year-round and are harvested multiple times before dying, like asparagus, blueberries, strawberries apples and alfalfa will provide food for years with very little work and little water. Perennial crops are also better for the soil than annual crops.

Planting diverse crops also keeps insects at bay since they don’t have the opportunity to settle in one place and reproduce in large numbers because they wont have enough food to support a large population.

You may grow healthy and abundant crops using natural pesticides that do not kill pests but rather act as repellents such as:

1. Homemade epsom salt pesticide

Add one teaspoon of Epsom salts with two drops of hydrogen peroxide, a pinch of bicarbonate of soda, plus three drops of pure neem oil into 1.5 litres of warm water. Pour mixture into a watering can or garden spray and apply directly onto plants and soil where you wish to control pests. All ingredients can be purchased at any pharmacy or HERE.

Epsom salts are also great if you notice leaves going yellow.

Epsom salts are also very beneficial to human health. Check out this infographic written by my friend Karen from PositiveHealthWellness on the health benefits of epsom salts.

Other natural pesticide mixes include:

2. Orange mix: Chop orange peels (also lemons or limes will do the work), plus a handful of mint leaves and approximately two tablespoons of powdered cinnamon spice. This is also an effective deterrent for ants and ­caterpillars. Add mixture into 1.5 liters of warm water. Pour into a watering can or garden spray and apply directly onto plants and soil where you wish to control pests.

3. Spicy mix: Finely chop or grind a handful of whole red chillies, plus 2-3 onions and 1 whole garlic. Add mixture into 1.5 liters of warm water. Pour into a watering can or garden spray and apply directly onto plants and soil where you wish to control pests. This is great against all insects, but don’t spray this mixture directly onto flowers or petals as it will burn them.

4. Radish mix: Chop a handful of radishes with their leaves, plus 2 tbs Castile soap. Add mixture into 1.5 liters of warm water. Pour into a watering can or garden spray and apply directly onto plants and soil where you wish to control pests. This mixture is also effective against flies and cockroaches. It can also protect against plant ­fungus.

Alternate between the mixtures and spray each type once every three or four days. They remain strong only for about 5 days if held in the refrigerator.

Although pesticide residues are harmful to human health, we now have viable alternatives that help reduce pesticide residue exposure to almost nothing, without having to give up a healthy plant based diet.

In fact, the more people spending money on foods that were grown without organophosphate pesticides, the more voice we have to make a change in the way modern agriculture is growing food.


  1. Stephanie M. Engel, James Wetmur, Jia Chen1, Chenbo Zhu, Dana Boyd Barr, Richard L. Canfield, Mary S. Wolff. Prenatal Exposure to Organophosphates, Paraoxonase 1, and Cognitive Development in Childhood. Environ Health Perspect 119:1182-1188 (2011)
  2. Bouchard MF, Chevrier J, Harley KG, Kogut K, Vedar M, Calderon N, Trujillo C, Johnson C, Bradman A, Barr DB, Eskenazi B. Prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides and IQ in 7-year-old children. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Aug;119(8):1189-95. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1003185.
  3. Rauh V1, Arunajadai S, Horton M, Perera F, Hoepner L, Barr DB, Whyatt R. Seven-year neurodevelopmental scores and prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos, a common agricultural pesticide. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Aug;119(8):1196-201. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1003160. Epub 2011 Apr 21
  4. Maryse F. Bouchard, David C. Bellinger, Robert O. Wright, Marc G. Weisskopf. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Urinary Metabolites of Organophosphate Pesticides. Pediatrics May 2010, peds.2009-3058
  5. https://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/MonographVolume112.pdf


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