By Alyssa Adler
Increased knowledge that pesticides found in fruits and vegetables may have negative health effects paved the way for organic produce to become a new reality. In 2014, the USDA found pesticide residues in about three-fourths of the produce tested. Pesticides are known to cause damage to the body by hormone disruption, DNA damage, inflammation, and gene activation and deactivation. Further, many pesticides are known to be carcinogens, so it is important to keep organic in mind when at the grocery store.
People often shy away from buying organic because these products tend to make a larger dent in the wallet. Luckily, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) came up with a solution to this by creating the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. Changing every year, the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen are designed to inform consumers of the high and low risk fruits and vegetables in terms of pesticide content. These two groups can additionally offset some costs at the grocery store.
The Clean Fifteen list contains produce with very low amounts of pesticides. These include avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, mangos, asparagus, kiwis, eggplant, papaya, honeydew, grapefruit, cantaloupe and cauliflower. No more than 4 different pesticide residues were found in any fruit samples from the Clean Fifteen. Therefore, buying organic for these products is not completely essential.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Dirty Dozen, a list of the produce that contains the highest amounts of pesticides. The Dirty Dozen contains strawberries, apples, nectarines, celery, peaches, cherries, grapes, spinach, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet bell peppers. In addition, the EWG created the Dirty Dozen PLUS, which contains two groups of vegetables that tested to have small amounts of toxic and hazardous pesticides. These two groups include leafy greens, such as kale and collard greens, and hot peppers. It is recommended that consumers buy organic if these Dirty Dozen Plus vegetables are consumed on a regularly basis.
If organic vegetables cannot be found at the grocery store, do not be afraid to buy non-organic. A couple of ways to reduce pesticide content on produce is to wash well by scrubbing thoroughly with cold water, peeling off the skin, or even cooking can reduce pesticide content. Although pesticide levels can be prevalent in produce, don’t let it stop you eating it. Studies show the benefits to outweigh the risks. Fruits and vegetables still contain nutritional and cancer fighting benefits that are key to healthy survivorship, so it’s important to have them on your plate no matter what.
Alyssa Adler was CFYL’s 2016 summer web intern after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition Sciences with a concentration in Dietetics. Alyssa has since gone on to earn her Masters degree, and is now a Clinical Nutritionist at Mt. Sinai’s St. Luke’s hospital here in New York City. She also has a food blog called Red Delicious and Nutritious which focuses on healthy eating and living and how decadent foods can be made wholesome and delicious. A woman after our own heart!