Are you concerned about your exposure to pesticides, particularly in your produce? We are. There is growing consensus in the scientific community that chronic exposure to small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can have adverse effects on health, especially during the more vulnerable periods of one’s lifecycle, such as fetal development and childhood, but also at other times during adulthood; The use of some herbicides have been linked to weight gain as well as insulin resistance, allergy and autoimmunity, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.
Ideally, we’d like you to buy all organic, but we realize that isn’t always realistic. Luckily there is a way to prioritize your organic purchases. Read below to find out the worst and least food offenders when it comes to pesticide contamination of produce.
Have you heard of the Dirty Dozen (no not the Lee Marvin movie ;-))? The “Dirty Dozen” list and its partner, the “Clean 15” refer, respectively, to the fruits and vegetables that are the most and least contaminated by pesticides. These lists are compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an independent organization that advocates pro-environmental causes in Washington, D.C., and are updated each year.
Organic Produce? Always buy these:
This year strawberries topped the list of the Dirty Dozen. Strawberries tested by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2014 strawberry tests found that a shocking 98 percent of all strawberries had detectable residues of at least one pesticide, while some of the direst had residues of 17 different pesticides. Even worse, strawberries growers use poisonous gases to sterilize their fields before planting, killing every pest along with every other living thing in the soil. USDA tests found that strawberries are most likely to be contaminated with pesticide residues, even after they are picked, rinsed in the field and washed before eating. It is for this reason the EWG advises that you always buy organically grown berries as well as any food on the Dirty Dozen List.
Dirty Dozen (always buy organic): strawberries, apples, nectarines, peaches, celery, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers.
If buying organic really isn’t a viable option for you, then you could seek out locally grown produce, perhaps from a farmer’s market or purchase your fruit and vegetables from a nearby Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA). Even if the produce you find there is not certified organic, chances are that it may contain less pesticide residue than the produce available in your larger grocery stores, which do not always focus on locally grown foods. Many smaller farms don’t go through the process of organic certification but still grow their produce with minimal, if any, agricultural chemicals. So, talk to your farmers if you can, and see if you feel happy with how they are growing their produce.
If you can’t buy organic produce, we would still encourage you to buy non-organic fruits and vegetables and enjoy a full array of different types.
Foods that have lower pesticide levels and are OK to buy conventional.
Of the fruit and vegetable categories tested, the following “Clean 15” foods had the lowest pesticide load, and consequently are the safest conventionally grown crops to consume from the standpoint of pesticide contamination. This group is mostly made of produce that has a thick peel or rind which would better protect the inner, edible portion.
The Clean 15 (ok to buy conventional if you need to): Avocados, Sweet Corn, Pineapples, Cabbage, Frozen Sweet Peas, Onions, Asparagus, Mangos, Papayas, Kiwi, Eggplant, Honeydew Melon, Grapefruit, Cantaloupe and Cauliflower.
The EWG also provides a caveat for sweet corn, papaya and summer squash. In the United States, these items may be produced from genetically-engineered (GE) seed stock. They further advise to buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid GE produce.
Wash produce with mechanical action.
Regardless of any list, it is always a good idea to wash all of your produce purchases thoroughly before consuming them. You might consider using a natural bristle brush to lightly scrub the surface, so that you can remove some of the pesticide residue that may be present.
Consider the environment as well as our own health.
When it comes to pesticide use, there is more to consider than just the residues that are ingested by the consumer. Although peeled foods such as mangoes, avocadoes and kiwis may spare the consumer from significant pesticide exposure, it is possible that large amounts of pesticides and herbicides are used on the farms from which these originate, contaminating groundwater, promoting erosion and otherwise damaging local ecosystems. To help promote the health of the planet as well as your own health, it’s best to buy organic whenever possible, including when you are purchasing the foods listed above.
And don’t leave behind your sanity!
One final caveat: despite the clear research that minimizing our toxin exposure is a good thing, it’s important not to live in fear of food. If reading this has you feeling anxious, have a look at our previous post on Food Fears and a Little Compromise. If you don’t have access to organic, despite your best efforts and intentions, it’s still better to eat lots of fruits and veggies than to avoid them.
Link to the EWG site and lists: https://donate.ewg.org/images/EWG_2016PesticidesInProduceGuide.pdf