Reducing Your Exposure to Pesticides in Food

fruitsYou’ve read all the articles and watched all the shows preaching the values of a healthy lifestyle. You’ve decided to junk your junk-food habit and go for an all-natural, organic diet instead. You find the prices at the organic produce section of the grocery a little high, so instead you get yourself a bag of less-priced leafy and fruity goodies-salad greens, lentils and apples-thinking that it’s also natural anyway. But are you sure that you’ve gotten yourself a 100% organic meal?

Many of the fruits and vegetables we eat are actually laced with various forms of pesticides. Pesticides are normally used to protect farm produce from all sorts of pests such as insects, weeds, mold, and bacteria. These include insecticides, rodenticides, herbicides and fungicides. Their use is so widespread that in many cases, farmers are already dependent on pesticides for better harvests.

The problem is that while pesticides help protect food production; the residues they leave pose health risks to consumers. While some pesticides can indirectly lead to different kinds of cancers such as brain cancer, kidney cancer and leukemia, others can cause neurological problems and disrupt hormone function. Pesticide residue also affects children more than adults, disrupting mental and physical development apart from causing low birth weight and other birth defects in infants.

How can you identify farm produce which is high in pesticide residue content? The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington-based nonprofit environmental research organization dedicated to improving public health and environmental protection, identified the ten worst natural foods with high chemical residues. These are (starting with the worst):

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Lettuce
  • Grapes – Imported
  • Pears

So, does this mean that you can’t munch on an apple during office breaks or enjoy baked potatoes for dinner? Not really, but it means that you switching to the organic variety of those on the list should be highly considered. While it might be a little pricier, the health benefits you get far outweigh the amount you might spend in making the switch.

If you still feel that the organic diet is still beyond your budget, don’t panic. The United Sates Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also identified ways on how to minimize residue risks in fruits and vegetables. EPA recommends two proven ways:

Wash it. Washing and scrubbing fruits and vegetables thoroughly with running water has an abrasive effect that’s better than soaking, helping remove bacteria and traces of chemicals from the skin, crevices, ridges and pits.

Peel or trim it. By peeling away the skin of tubers like carrots and potatoes, you reduce dirt, bacteria, and chemicals. In vegetables like cabbage or lettuce, it’s best to discard the outer leaves which in many cases have been sprayed with pesticides.