Fruits and vegetables are typically some of the most nutritious foods you can consume; they’re loaded with vitamins, minerals, and free radical fighting phytonutrients. But you’ll want to know where your product came from before you take a bite – many are loaded with pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals you probably don’t want in your body.
Pesticides are known to be toxic to the nervous system, cause cancer, disrupt hormones and have even been linked to brain damage in children. Pregnant women are advised to avoid foods containing pesticides. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that prenatal pesticide exposure may lead to high blood pressure and a decreased neurological ability to copy shapes in childhood. Strong evidence exists linking pesticide exposure to neurological development disorders, birth defects, and fetal death. Not to forget the environmental effects as pesticide use reduces biodiversity, contributes to pollinator decline, and destroys animal habitats.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a public health advocacy group, recently released its seventh annual report analyzing data on 53 fruits and vegetables, identifying which have the most and least pesticides, (obviously these are conventional, not organic, foods). Rankings reflect the amounts of chemicals present on food when it is eaten. Most samples were washed and peeled before testing. Washing with a “produce wash” is unlikely to help remove pesticides because they’re taken up by the entire plant and reside on more than just the skin, the report says.
One way to tell if your produce is organic is to look at the code on the product. Organic products are five digits long and start with the number 9. Conventional products are four digits long and start with the number 4. So an apple labeled 93525 would be organic, whereas one labeled 4878 would be conventional. Organic food is typically much higher in nutrients, sometimes as much as ten times more than those treated with chemicals.
If you can’t afford to eat organic, or if the produce is hard to come by in your area, choose from those on the list lower in pesticides. Based off the EWG’s standards for analyzing pesticides, eating five servings of fruits and vegetables from the “Dirty Dozen” list would mean you’d get an average of 14 different pesticides. By choosing five from the clean list, you’d consumer fewer than two pesticides. As a side-note, foods you should also always make sure are organic or at least hormone and antibiotic free are dairy products, eggs, and poultry. These products are loaded with hormone-altering drugs and chemicals and should be avoided as much as possible if they’re not 100% natural and drug-free.
So focus on organic, and grow your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs as much as you can – and don’t spray or treat them with any unnatural substance! The complete list of all 53 foods analyzed can be found on EWG’s website here.
“The Dirty Dozen”
8. Sweet bell peppers
12. Kale/collard greens
The Clean 15 (These have the least amount of pesticide residue.)
6. Sweet peas
13. Sweet potatoes