A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of eating diverse plant foods (fruit, vegetables, legumes, and grains) to keep our brain and body healthy. I also have been sharing reminders, for both myself and others, about how a salad, a fruit plate or a stir fry allows us to eat a diverse number of plant foods in one portion.
Today I would like to discuss if it is important to eat organic plant foods.
Organic is Expensive
I recently discovered a farmer near my home who sells his products directly from his fields. The idea of eating field to table is wonderful because it prevents loss of potential vitamins and minerals in the produce that can occur while sitting in a truck or on the shelf. I feel like I just picked the produce from my own garden.
Since I normally buy organic produce, the prices seemed so low that I bought more fruit and vegetables than I usually do. This brings me to a question I often ask myself:
Can eating only organic products be less healthy if it causes me to eat less fruit and vegetables in general because organic is more expensive?
I think we all know that pesticides are dangerous, but for me the reason I try to buy mainly organic is that pesticides can affect our brains. Research shows pesticides may lead to the development of Parkinson’s Disease and cognitive decline later in life. Pesticide exposure has also been linked to Alzheimer’s type dementia.
And yet – we know that eating more fruits and vegetables is healthy and can protect us from illness and cognitive decline as well as protect us against toxins, like the pesticides.
So how to decide whether to buy organic or not?
Reducing Pesticide Risk
There is so much info floating around that internet, that it is becoming more and more difficult to know what is fact. That is why I subscribe to Dr. Greger from Nutrition Facts who reviews actual research from around the world. Dr. Greger recently presented research on the topic of pesticides causing cancer
and premature death.
Research shows that 90% of the population in the US has pesticides in their blood from the food they eat, and that Cancer risk lowers for those who eat organic foods. However, there was one area of research that surprised me. The pesticides that are fat soluble are mainly found in diary products, eggs and animals fats. There is even a difference in the amount of of pesticides in breast milk between a mother who eats animal products (4 x more) than a mother who doesn't. So if you want to protect yourself more from pesticides, cut down on the amount of animal products that you eat!
Dr. Greger concludes from the research that: “For Overall health, current evidence indicates that the benefits of consuming conventionally grown produce are likely to outweigh the possible risks form pesticide exposure. Concerns over pesticide risks should not discourage intake of conventional fruits and vegetables.”
This is important to realize that eating fruit and vegetables is healthy and perhaps can allow us to eat more of them with less worry, but I would still avoid toxins as much as possible. Perhaps our body can overcome the toxins from pesticides, but we are constantly exposed to many toxins. It can be in the chemicals we use for cleaning, the residue of chemicals in the products we use for food and drink and even constant stress can be toxic to our body. These past two years have caused many of us to be in a higher state of stress. Our body may not be strong enough to combat all these toxins together, so I still prefer reducing toxins wherever I can.
High Pesticide Produce One of the ways that may help is to avoid those fruit and vegetables that have a high amount of pesticides on them. Thanks to the wonderful work of the non-profit EWG (Environmental Working Group) I use their Dirty Dozen List as my guiding factor for reducing pesticides in my diet.
These are the produce with the highest amount of toxins. There is a new list published every year, but many products remain on it constantly. Many people know that kale is healthy – but it is also extremely high in pesticides as is spinach, so the benefits may not outweigh the toxins you ingest. This year the dirty dozen list included:
Kale, collard and mustard greens
Grapes (and raisins!)
Bell and hot peppers
This is for the produce in the US, so the list may vary for other countries. For example, where I live, we can easily buy Biobee strawberries which although not organic, use biological pest control which greatly decreases the chemical residue on the fruit.
Can the pesticide be taken off? Apples, peaches and other non-organic fruit get their pesticides through the irrigation system so the pesticide is inside the juice of these fruits. Yes - that means if you drink the juice you will probably be getting a high concentration of pesticides with them. When the pesticides are in the irrigation system, you cannot wash off the pesticide from the fruit, however some research is showing that soaking apples in water with baking soda may help.
I also try to buy organic the products we eat often. My husband eats at least an apple every day, so even if it wasn't on this list, I would make sure that we have only organic apples at home. Almost every day we eat oats (Granola or oatmeal) so I also buy organic oats.
Produce With Less Pesticides
The EWG also produces a Clean List, which shows which products have minimal pesticides. This might help you decide which produce you don't have to pay more to buy organic. If you have a vegetable garden, you probably already know which crops need more care to keep bugs away (leafy greens) and which need no care (Avocado.)
In 2021 the EWG's Clean List included these produce:
Sweet Peas Frozen
Since discovering that broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage are on the clean list, we are eating much more of these extremely healthy vegetables. This has made me realize how important it is to to learn the facts about what we eat so we can weigh the risks with the benefits. Sadly the most popular posts today are those that scare us and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed that everything we do or eat is bad for us! Don’t let this scare mongering keep you from learning how best take care of yourself.
If you found EWG’s Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen lists useful, as well as Dr. Greger’s Nutrition Facts organization, please consider supporting these organizations to keep them running by choosing them in Amazon Smile or with a donation.
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