We all want to feed ourselves and our families fresh, healthy food, and summertime is when produce is the freshest. Summer farmer's markets are starting soon, and the produce on the shelves calls out for lighter summer meals. But when it comes to fruits and vegetables, not all choices are created equal. Many types of produce are grown with pesticides that can be harmful to humans, and some are more resistant. Here's how to make sure you're eating the healthiest produce around, no matter what your budget.
What's wrong with pesticides?
Pesticides are meant to kill living organisms, like insects, so it's not surprising that they're not healthy for humans. Many pesticides have been found to be carcinogenic, and still others are so dangerous they've been banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pesticide toxicity has been connected to birth defects, cancer, endocrine disruption, respiratory disease and many other health problems. The EPA regulates pesticide use and sets acceptable levels for human consumption. But due to a variety of factors, it's still possible to have toxic levels of exposure.
What is the dirty dozen?
Each year the Environmental Working Group publishes a list of the fruits and vegetables found to have the highest levels of pesticide residue. These results are based on thousands of samples of produce that has been tested after being well-scrubbed and prepared for consumption. The most dangerous fruits and veggies of 2017 are strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and potatoes. It's recommended that you buy these fruits and veggies organic. If you must buy conventionally grown, be sure to thoroughly wash and dry your produce and cook it, if possible.
What are the Clean 15?
On the flip side, EWG also publishes a list of the fruits and veggies that were found to have the lowest levels of pesticide residue after being prepared for human consumption. 2017's Clean 15 includes sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwis, cantaloupe, cauliflower and grapefruit. Add these fruits and veggies to the top of your list and don't be as concerned if you cannot buy organic.
So should I just buy everything organic?
Organic food is readily available these days, but when it comes to fruit and vegetables, is it really that much better for you? In some cases, yes. In addition to giving you better flavor as well as the chance to support local growers (in some cases), certified organic produce is free of synthetic pesticides. But there's no rule against using high levels of naturally derived pesticides in organic farming, and some of those can be harmful to humans as well. The bottom line is that the more you know about how your food is grown, the better. Choose organic when possible and especially when it comes to the dirty dozen; but always thoroughly wash your produce, read packaging carefully, and don't be afraid to choose "local" over "organic" when you know the grower's methods are sound.
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