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Fruit, vegetables and pesticides

Everybody knows that buying fruit and veg which were grown organically is better than buying those that were grown in the conventional way. Unfortunately it’s not always easy because of seasonal availability and financial costs. Therefore, most people will try to select which organic fruit and veg they buy based on their own perception of the exposure to contamination of each fruit and veg. However such perception does not always tally with the facts.

So today let’s talk about the facts…. Which I hope will help you prioritise which foods to buy organic and we are safe to buy conventionally grown. However, before I proceed I would like to point out that the list is to a certain degree dynamic, which means that there can be variation of the placement on the list based on geography and on time. The data I’m working with is recent (2016) and sourced from the Environmental Working Group[1].

Based on their data, the most contaminated fruit for 2016 is strawberries. 98% of samples checked contained at least one detectable pesticide residue.

The rest of the list looks like this:

EWG's 2016 Dirty Dozen (Buy These Organic)

  1. Strawberries

  2. Apples

  3. Nectarine

  4. Peaches

  5. Celery

  6. Grapes

  7. Cherries

  8. Spinach

  9. Tomatoes

  10. Sweet bell peppers

  11. Cherry tomatoes

  12. Cucumbers

EWG's 2015 Clean 15 (safe to Buy These Conventional)

  1. Avocados

  2. Sweet corn

  3. Pineapples

  4. Cabbage

  5. Sweet peas (frozen)

  6. Onions

  7. Asparagus

  8. Mangos

  9. Papayas

  10. Kiwi

  11. Eggplant

  12. Honeydew melon

  13. Grapefruit

  14. Cantaloupe

  15. Cauliflower

Nearly three quarters of the population has detectable levels of pesticides in their urine, and unless you're a farmer, your nutrition is one of the most likely routes for exposure.

Eating organic is one of the best ways to lower your overall pesticide level. However, not everyone has access to a wide variety of organic produce, and it nearly always more expensive than buying conventional.

Remember that eating vegetables, even if they're not organic, is still more beneficial than not eating the at all (but don’t forget to wash well). If you need prioritise, refer to the Dirty Dozen list and buy those organic as much as possible. If you shop at farmer's markets, which I strongly recommend, you can also ask the farmer directly about pesticide usage.

It's possible to find produce that is not certified organic that may still have a lower pesticide load than conventional produce depending on the source. So if you can't find organic produce, look for a local farmer who has eliminated pesticide use (or seldom uses them).

Finally, if you know you have been exposed to pesticides, eating fermented foods like kimchi and kefir can help. The lactic acid bacteria formed during the fermentation of these foods may help the body break down pesticides.

[1] Environmental Working Group, 2016 Pesticide Residue Data

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