To Eat or Not to Eat
Afraid of a non-organic apple? Putting down that pear due to a fear of pesticide exposure? You’re not the only one. Confusion over whether or not it is safe to eat produce, whether grown on a local farm or trucked in from California, is keeping many of us from enjoying the foods our bodies need most.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit watchdog organization focusing on keeping both humans and the environment safe and sustainable, has put together helpful tips based on their research to help you navigate the produce section with confidence and enjoy your fruits and veggies … fearlessly.
The Scoop on Pesticides
There’s no denying that pesticides designed to kill living organisms like insects and fungi are toxic and pose serious health risks for humans. So it’s reasonable for shoppers to be concerned about pesticide residue lingering on the produce we eat. In fact, according to an EWG study, 68 percent of produce samples evaluated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture contained at least one form of pesticide.
The Environmental Protection Agency has established safety levels to ensure consumers are protected against over exposure to these chemicals. But the EWG is encouraging the public to go one step further and limit their intake of those produce items that, even though they may pass EPA guidelines, still may contain too much residue to be safe for small children or when consumed with many other produce items in one day.
The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides
To help consumers make educated choices, the EWG created the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides™ that outlines the best and worst produce picks in terms of pesticide contamination. The lists are based on eight years of pesticide testing data generated by scientists at the USDA and federal Food and Drug Administration. According to the EWG, you can lower your pesticide intake substantially by choosing organic versions, when possible, of the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables (“Dirty Dozen™”), while also opting for the least contaminated (“Clean 15™”).
The Shoppers Guide is now available on the EWG website or as a downloadable app on most smart phones.
“With the downloadable app, the Environmental Working Group has put this information at your fingertips right there in the store,” says Teller Stalfort, registered dietitian for University of Virginia Heart Center. “Don't let that cause confusion or stress -- just remember, the health benefits of eating either conventionally or organically grown produce far outweigh the risks.”
Fear Not – Eat Fruit!
The average diet in the U.S. is already trending away from current guidelines that recommend two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables each day, with less than one-third of adults meeting these standards, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adding fear of pesticides into the mix of existing deterrents – expense, poor choices, etc. – is not the intent of the EWG.
Rather, like Stalfort, the group stresses the fact that forgoing fruits and vegetables, no matter where they fall on the list of pesticide offenders, is not an option. “The EPA has tested pesticide levels and deemed them safe for public consumption, so as long as you wash produce before eating, you are still making a heart-healthy choice,” says Stalfort.
For more information on pesticides and produce, visit ewg.org.