7. Conventionally Grown Apples: While a recent study found that conventionally farmed produce isn’t nutritionally inferior to the stuff grown on organic farms, there’s no question that pesticides used to grow regular produce can damage the brain and nervous system, lead to cancer, disrupt your hormones, and lead to skin, eye, and lung irritation, according to data assembled by the EWG. And pesticides tend to stick around on some fruits and veggies — even after you wash and peel them.
In an ideal world, you’d splurge on the organic versions of the most contaminated foods: Apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas, potatoes, hot peppers, kale, and collard greens, according to the EWG’s most recent report. But most people don’t. If there’s one fruit to buy in the organic aisle, Rifkin says, make sure it’s apples: 99 percent of apples EWG tested contained the residue of at least one kind of pesticide.
That said, there’s one exception: When your only food options are a conventional apple or a processed snack like a bag of chips. In this case, Leiba says, the plain old apple is still your best bet.
8. Conventionally Raised Chicken and 9. Eggs: Some crazy shit goes down on non-organic farms, where chicken feed could include traces of caffeine, Tylenol, Benadryl, banned antibiotics, and arsenic, according to some reports. Now that McDonald’s and Costco are phasing out chicken raised with antibiotics, conventional-chicken suppliers are likely to shift toward safer and more natural practices.
Eventually, this could make it easier to find (and afford) the safest poultry and eggs. Until then: Organic eggs and organic chicken (which may be less likely to carry salmonella, according to some research) really are your safest bets, Rifkin says.
10. Bread and 11. Crackers Made With Potassium Bromate: This chemical is used to help bread and cracker dough rise during the baking process — even though it’s been linked to certain cancers in animal studies and it’s banned in many other countries. That’s good enough reason for Leiba to recommend against eating it. Look for the ingredient on baked good labels or ask about it at the bakery where you buy *fAnCy~* freshly made breads — then choose a potassium-bromate-free option, when you can.
12. Microwave Popcorn: “It’s not healthy eating out of a bag anymore,” Rifkin says. Microwave popcorn bags, in particular, are often lined with a chemical called perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), which has been shown to affect fertility, cancer risk, and kidney functioning in animal and some human studies. Because microwave popcorn bags aren’t labeled “toxic,” it’s best to avoid them altogether.
Another thing: Some brands of microwave popcorn add unhealthy trans fats to their products, and vaguely list “artificial flavors” or “natural flavors” on their labels — so there’s no way to know exactly what’s in there, Warren warns. In the worst case scenarios, the recipe could contain MSG, which cancause headaches or nausea, or diacetyl butter flavoring, which may cause respiratory damage when inhaled. (Air popped, anyone?)
13. Corn Tortillas and 14. Muffins Made With Propylparaben: This common cosmetic ingredient is also used to preserve corn tortillas and muffins. (Just check the product’s label: If it contains the chemical, it will be listed as an ingredient.) Because the chemical acts like estrogen, it can throw your system out of whack — potentially messing with your fertility and accelerating the growth of breast cancer cells, according to some research.
Unfortunately there aren’t a ton of studies done on cumulative exposure, so researchers don’t know whether your penchant for tacos and propylparaben containing lotions could compound your risk, says Leiba, who tends to dodge such foods and products (just in case).
15. Any Packaged Food With More Than Two Ingredients You Can’t ID. Like “butylated hydroxyanisole” (BHA) and “butylated hydroxytoluene” (BHT). These ingredients are antioxidants used as preservatives in foods like chips, preserved meats, and cereals. BHA is an endocrine disruptor: High doses can affect the size of your ovaries and their ability to produce certain hormones, Leiba explains. BHT is no angel either: Animal studies link the ingredient to motor skill issues and lung and liver tumors. While ingredients can affect animals and humans differently, you might not want to be the guinea pig, Leiba says. “It’s in your best interest to limit these chemicals as much as possible.”