Get Your Pesticides Off My Peaches!

Peaches.   A highly enjoyed summer time fruit and one celebrated this month, with August being National Peach Month.  But did you know that this sweet fruit, while low in calories and a good source of vitamins A and C, is also among the top 12 dirtiest fruits?

Maybe you have heard critics walking with their grocery carts, gawking at those who go after non-organic fruits and vegetables.  They praise their pesticide-free lifestyles, only to leave you wondering -  what you are exposing your family to?  So you pick up your peach.  It looks relatively clean and arguably perfect after a wash under the faucet, but will that pesticide residue, unseen by the naked eye, really wash away? How is the everyday shopper supposed to know, without use of x-ray vision for what’s actually contaminating your fruit?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is one of the organizations that have tried to tackle these consumer questions. Annually updated, the EWG has developed the easy-to-use algorithms now notoriously known as the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen.”  These lists are analyzed with Department of Agriculture crops from the previous season and devised to rate and rank produce for pesticide residue.  Research is still needed to help evaluate the long-term effect that pesticides have on the human body, but numerous implications have been made for the harm pesticide exposure has on humans.  The most concerning evidence has been found among pesticide exposure in children and pregnant women, with findings of damage to the nervous system and a clear link between a mother’s exposure to pesticides during pregnancy and deficits to children’s learning and memory.  

Encouraging news however comes with the release of the annual Dirty Dozen list, this year’s first-ever “Plus” section, and claims that consumers can reduce their exposure to pesticides by up to 85% by substituting organic for conventionally grown varieties of these common favorites featured on the dirty dozen “plus” list: 

  • celery, sweet bell peppers, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, potatoes, green beans, and kale greens
  • apples, peaches, strawberries, nectarines (imported), grapes, blueberries (domestic)

This list aids to assist consumers who are trying to weigh in on their concerns for the effects of pesticide exposure with the cost difference known to make many consumers cringe when it comes to conventional versus organic.  By narrowing down the list of the most-pesticide laden fruits and vegetables, consumers should feel equipped to better discern what fruit and vegetable purchases they feel are not only nutritious, but affordable as organic.

So long gone may be the days where you can trust the peach you pick up at the store is as untainted as if it was picked off your Grandmother’s peach tree in Georgia.  But don’t fret about missing out on this fuzzy summer time favorite all together. 

The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, even those conventionally grown, continues to outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure and/or diets completely void of fruits and vegetables.  Americans already fail to consume the CDC’s recommended minimum of two servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables per day, so forgoing produce all together is not the message meant to be conveyed here.  Instead, the goal is to educate and empower consumers in their decision making, and when appropriate, to encourage the use tools that already exist.  One should never feel forced to choose between pesticides and a peach!

Visit the Environmental working Group’s website for your own downloadable guide at:  http://static.ewg.org/reports/2012/foodnews/pdf/2012-EWGPesticideGuide.pdf. 

Fun Tip To Go:  It works well when modified to fit on a business card; you can put in your wallet and have accessible anytime you wonder – just how dirty does this rate?

 © By Ashley M. Smith, MPH, RD, LD

References:

EWG’s 2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.  http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/

The Daily Green.  “The New Dirty Dozen:  12 Foods to Eat Organic.”  http://www.thedailygreen.com/healthy-eating/eat-safe/dirty-dozen-foods

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  “Nutrition for Everyone:  Fruits and Vegetables.”  http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/fruitsvegetables/index.html

Photo credit: www.healthyaperture.com via www.foodiephysician.com

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