Thursday, May 28, 2009

Reason #51: Going Organic and the Dirty Dozen

Fresh produce is a staple in my diet. This weekend I bought pears, green apples, red grapes, spinach, cucumbers, green peppers, carrots, avocado, and corn on the cob for the week ahead. I have been eating it all up, but as I bit into my shiny apple (yes shiny, in an unnatural shiny way) this afternoon, I could not help to think is it time to switch over to organic? There are numerous reasons people eat organic food:

1. Healthier – no insecticides, herbicides, fumigants, fungicides, or miticides that have been used to treat the plants in organic food.

2. Better for the Earth – no pesticides means healthier soil, water, and wildlife.

3. Supports local farmers
- The US Department of Agriculture estimates that 50% of all farm products come from only 1% of the farms. It's also estimated that the United States has lost more than 650,000 family farms in the past decade. Buying local, organic products keeps local farmers in business and small communities alive.

4. Tastes better

I confess, I have always chosen my fruits and vegetables based on prices, and in the past have glimpsed over the organic produce due to the higher expense. My rationale was to just wash my produce thoroughly and it would be just as good, right?

Wrong. The “healthy foods” I think I am eating are the same foods that are artificially, chemically, synthetically, and genetically produced and contain dangerous chemicals that can cause serious harm to my body. Which leaves me with the dilemma a) stop eating produce, b) continue to eat produce, or c) eat organic.

Organic food is food from plants and animals that is produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers, artificial pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, growth hormones, feed additives or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that even after washing, some fruits and vegetables consistently carry much higher levels of pesticide residue than others. Based on an analysis of more than 100,000 U.S. government pesticide test results, researchers at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a research and advocacy organization have developed the “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables, that you should always buy organic.

Fruit: Apples, Cherries,Grapes, imported (Chili), Nectarines, Peaches, Pears, Raspberries, Strawberries

Vegetables: Bell peppers, Celery, Potatoes, Spinach

Fruits that do not need to be organic include: Bananas, Kiwi, Mangos, Papaya, Pineapples

Vegetables: Asparagus, Avocado, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Onions

An EWG simulation of thousands of consumers eating high and low pesticide diets shows that people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 90 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead… soft-skinned fruits and veggies, like peaches, apples and bell peppers, retain the most amount of pesticides. Nearly all of the data used to create these lists already considers how people typically wash and prepare produce (for example, apples are washed before testing, bananas are peeled).

Based on the information I found, I am going to make a conscientious effort to buy all dirty dozen fruits and vegetables organically. Personally, ingesting the pesticides is not worth the risk and the pros far outweigh the cons. The remaining produce such as bananas and avocado I will buy regularly. Here are ways buying organic food can remain somewhat affordable:

1. Comparison shop in local grocery stores.

2. Take advantage of local farmers' markets: Many farmers do not charge a premium.

How can you protect yourself from “non-organic” pesticides:

-Buy fresh vegetables and fruits in season. When long storage and long-distance shipping are not required, fewer pesticides are used.

-Trim tops and the very outer portions of celery, lettuce, cabbages, and other leafy vegetables that may contain the bulk of pesticide residues.

-Peel and cook when appropriate, even though some nutrients and fiber are lost in the process.

-Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. This would limit exposure to any one type of pesticide residue.

-Purchase only fruits and vegetables that are subject to USDA regulations. Produce imported from other countries is not grown under the same regulations as enforced by the USDA. Examples are strawberries and cantaloupes from Mexico.

-Wait until just before preparation to wash or immerse your produce in clean water. When appropriate, scrub with a brush. Experts at the University of California-Berkeley report that this removes nearly all insects and dirt, as well as bacteria and some pesticide residues.

-Special soaps or washes are not needed and could be harmful to you, depending on their ingredients. Read the label! Cold water is perfectly fine.

I will report back on my future organic shopping experience. Do you buy organic?

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