We all ingest lots of chemicals, one way or another. We breathe them, we drink them, and we eat them. The most troublesome are pesticides in produce. It makes me uncomfortable to think that while we are eating fruits and vegetables in reality we are also ingesting poisons that can accumulate in our bodies and make us very sick. This is food that supposes to be healthy and good for us!
Even if the most toxic chemicals have already been banned for use in agriculture, pesticides in general are poisons designed to kill insects, weed, small rodents and other pests. The long time effects of these poisons on people are not completely known. Even the minimal risk with these pollutants is too much, when we think we may expose children. We should try to do every effort to minimize our intake of these adverse chemicals.
Education is the key. Knowing which produce contain more pollutants can help us make the right choices, avoiding the most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least polluted, or buy organic instead. In simulation of consumers eating habits has been demonstrated that changing a little bit the eating practices can lower considerably the ingestion of pesticides.
The results of an investigation on pesticides in produce by the USDA Pesticide Data Program (*), show that fruits topped the list of the consistently most contaminated produce, with eight of the 12 most polluted foods. The dirty dozen are: Apples, Bell Peppers, Celery, Cherries, Imported Grapes, Nectarines, Peaches, Pears, Potatoes, Red Raspberries, Spinach, and Strawberries.
You don’t like broccoli? Too bad because they are among those least contaminated. In fact the 12 least polluted produce are: Asparagus, Avocados, Bananas, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Sweet Corn, Kiwi, Mangos, Onions, Papaya, Pineapples, and Sweet Peas.
Can washing of produce help get rid of pesticides? Not really. The fruits and vegetables tested by the USDA PDP (*) are “prepared emulating the practices of the average consumer” before testing for pesticides. That is: “(1) apples are washed with stems and cores removed; (2) asparagus and spinach have inedible portions removed and are washed; (3) cantaloupes are cut in half and seed and rinds are removed; […] and (9) tomatoes are washed and stems removed”.
Washing before consuming is highly recommended because helps decrease the pesticide residues present on the surface of the vegetables, but the majorities of pollutants are absorbed into the plant and can’t be just washed away. Some pesticides are specifically created to stick to the surface of the crops and they don’t come out by washing. Peeling can help eliminating some of the chemicals but not all, and a lot of important substances will be discarded with the skin.
So, on one hand we have to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables for a healthy diet, and on the other hand we have to reduce as much a possible the intake of pesticides. What to do if you are unconvinced by the claims of the chemical companies that certain levels of pesticides are not dangerous?
We have very few options to defend ourselves: (1) Wash all vegetables and fruit very well; (2) Change eating habits in order to consume more of the produce with low pollutants; (3) Consume a diet as varied as possible; (4) Buy organic foods.