According to the Pesticide Action Network (PANNA), the US applies about 888 million pounds of pesticides annually, which equates to about three pounds of pesticides per person, per yeari. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers 60 percent of herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides, and 30 percent of insecticides to be carcinogenic, and most are damaging to your nervous system as well. In fact, these powerful and dangerous chemicals have been linked to numerous health problems such as:
Neurotoxicity Endocrine system disruption Carcinogenicity Immune system suppression Miscarriages, male infertility, and reduced reproductive function Parkinson’s disease
Shop Wisely to Reduce Toxic Exposure
So, when you go to the store or local farmer’s market, how do you know which fresh fruits or vegetables are the safest?
Thankfully, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has created an annual shopper’s guideii that offers lists of the top 12 fruits and vegetables you should buy organic; the “Clean 15” that have the lowest amounts of pesticide contamination; and a full listing of 45 fruits and vegetables ranked from highest to lowest in pesticide residues. To reach their recommendations, they evaluated pesticide residue testing data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Overall, 68 percent of all fruits and veggies sampled had detectable levels of pesticides. This level has remained fairly constant over the past six years since the EWG began their annual pesticide report. Eleven percent were found to have more than five different pesticides residues.
According to Rodale Magazine:
“This all shows that the Environmental Protection Agency isn't doing as much as it should to restrict pesticide use in a way that protects public health, [Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at EWG] says. "It's like meeting a 500 mile-per-hour speed limit. They're aimed at stopping the really egregious levels of pesticides." But they aren't stopping low-level exposures to the chemicals, many of which are considered endocrine disruptors, chemicals that interfere with estrogen and testosterone in the body and, in doing so, contribute to infertility, thyroid problems, diabetes and other metabolic disorders, and certain forms of cancer.”
The Cleanest and Most Contaminated Fruits and Veggies
Here are the top 10 in each category. For the rest, please see the EWG shopping guideiii.
Best to Buy Organic, Due to High Pesticide Residue Levels
Apples Celery Sweet bell peppers Peaches Strawberries Nectarines Grapes Spinach Leafy greens like lettuce, kale, and collard greens Cucumbers
Okay to Buy Conventional, as Pesticide Residue Levels are Low
Onions Sweet corn Pineapple Avocado Cabbage Sweet peas, frozen Asparagus Eggplant Eggplant Kiwi
Keep in mind that while sweet corn typically has lower amounts of chemical residues, since genetically engineered (GE) sweet corn does not have to be labeled, there’s no way of knowing whether or not it’s GE. I agree with the EWG’s recommendation to buy organic corn to avoid the possibility of ending up with GE corn on your plate.
Additionally, the following statement by the EWG is also well-worth considering:
“The data used to create the Shopper’s Guide are from produce tested as it is typically eaten. This means washed and, when applicable, peeled. For example, bananas are peeled before testing, and blueberries and peaches are washed. Because all produce has been thoroughly cleaned before analysis, washing a fruit or vegetable would not change its rank in the EWG's Shopper’s Guide. Remember, if you don’t wash conventional produce, the risk of ingesting pesticides is even greater than reflected by USDA test data.”
The Case for Organic
Certified USDA Organic farmers must adhere to different standards when growing their fruits and vegetables. Many small, local farms may also adhere to more or less organic farming practices, even if they’re working without certification (which is expensive to get). Organic farming standards do NOT permit using:
Besides avoiding toxic agricultural residues, there’s also the issue of nutrition. When food is grown in healthy soils, teeming with beneficial microorganisms that help the plants absorb and process nutrients, you end up with more nutritious foods.
As a side note, genetically engineered foods, which use even heavier dousing of broad-spectrum herbicides than conventional crops, are particularly LOW in nutrients. As Dr. Don Huber has previously explained, this is in large part due to the soil destructioncaused by glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. It kills off all these beneficial microorganisms in the soil, and as a result, micronutrients such as iron, manganese and zinc can be reduced by as much as 80-90 percent in GE plants!
The biggest study ever to evaluate the nutrient content of organic food – a four-year EU funded project called the Quality Low Input Food (QLIF) projectiv – found that organic food is FAR more nutritious than chemically grown produce. For example, this study found that:
- Organic fruit and vegetables contain up to 40 percent more antioxidants
- Organic produce had higher levels of beneficial minerals like iron and zinc
- Milk from organic herds contained up to 90 percent more antioxidants
Needless to say, better nutrition will go a long way to improving your health and longevity. The researchers even went so far as to say that eating organic foods can help to increase the nutrient intake of people who don’t eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
On a Budget? Opt for Organic Animal Products First...
Organic food can be more costly than its conventionally grown alternative, but your payoff of good health should more than make up for it, by reducing your overall health care costs in the future. It makes sense to me to invest a bit more now so you can avoid paying much larger medical bills later, not to mention avoid the physical and mental disability and dysfunction that inevitably follows from eating heavily contaminated foods for a lifetime.
That said, when you do buy organic you want to be sure you're getting the most bang for your buck, and your dollars are not being wasted on food that is only marginally better than its non-organic counterpart. The EWG’s shopper’s guide is an excellent starting point if you're looking to switch to an organic lifestyle a little at a time, rather than converting 100 percent, but there are some additional points that can help you out too.
If you're on a tight budget but want to improve your diet by shopping organic, animal products like meat, poultry and eggs is actually a better place to start than focusing on organic fruits and vegetables.
Because animal products tend to bioaccumulate toxins from their pesticide-laced feed, concentrating them to far higher concentrations than are typically present in vegetables. Another important factor that sets organic, grass-fed meat apart from its conventional counterpart is it will not contain antibiotics and other growth-promoting drugs, while also providing a whole different ratio of nutrients. These are some of the many reasons why I strongly recommend you buy only organically raised, grass-fed meats. When choosing organic beef, taking the extra step to make sure the cows are exclusively grass-fed, including the three months before they are slaughtered, can make a big difference in the quality, taste, and nutrient content of the beef.
For chickens, it would be important to make sure they are free-range, pastured chickens, as well as being organic. Eggs from truly organic, pastured chickens are also to be preferred, as they contain more nutrients and are FAR less likely to contain dangerous bacteria such as salmonella than commercially raised eggs.
- i Pesticide Action Network
- ii EWG 2012 Shopper’s Guide June 19, 2012
- iii See ref 2
- iv Quality Low Input Food (QLIF) project
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