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Should I be buying organic fruits and veggies?

Have you heard of the clean fifteen and dirty dozen list? Each year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) creates a dirty dozen and clean fifteen list, which detects pesticide residue content on fruits and vegetables once they hit the store shelves. Below are the ‘dirtiest’ and ‘cleanest’ produce items of 2019.

Top 3 ‘dirtiest’ produce items: (Environmental Working Group Canada 2019)

  • Strawberries

  • Spinach

  • Kale

Top 3 ‘cleanest’ produce items: (Environmental Working Group Canada 2019)

  • Avocado

  • Sweet Corn

  • Pineapple

So, does that mean we should avoid all ‘dirty’ dozen fruits and veggies or purchase all our produce organic? I get these questions all the time! Today, I will be sharing some general information on produce pesticide use as well as some tips (once that I myself practice) when selecting produce.

The EWG suggests that nearly 70% of the produce sold in the U.S comes with pesticide residue. The EWG group uses data from the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) to determine the amount of pesticide residue on different fruits and veggies, the data is collected throughout the year. The data does not include the exact pesticides used or in what dose.

In general, both conventional and organically produced food pesticide residue is well under the acceptable limits, in fact in Canada pregnant women, children, and elderly are taken into account when establishing the safety limit levels.

What about organic fruits and veggies, are they any better?

One thing to be clear on is that organic does NOT = pesticide free. In fact, there are pesticides commonly used in organic produce, the main difference is they are derived from natural substances rather than synthetic ones. That being said, the natural substances in certain doses can still be toxic to both humans and the environment.

With any type of nutrition research, it’s quite difficult to detect causation, for example it would be near impossible to determine whether or not pesticides alone are causing some type of health concern. Why? Because there are so many other factors that could be influencing someone’s health. Instead the research considers the potential for increased risk (although much research thus far claims the produce sold in grocery retailers contain pesticide levels safe for consumption).

Probably the most important message I want to get across in this blog is NOT to be afraid of fruits and vegetables. There is much more harm associated with not eating fruits and vegetables regularly. We also know there is substantial high quality research that outlines the importance fruits and vegetables play in maintaining our health and preventing chronic diseases.

Bottom line: please don’t stop fruits and vegetables (this is worse for your health). Keep filling half your plate with them, whether you buy organic or not.

If you are concerned about your pesticide intake and not sure what to do when shopping, follow a few of the tips below when making your choices and prepping your produce!

1. Buy more locally available fruits and veggies. In Ontario this can be challenging for a big portion of our year, but we are about to enter prime time for fresh and local fruits and veggies, so take advantage of it.

Check out local farmer’s markets for locally sourced produce. Being certified organic costs money and is not available to many small scale farmers, in fact a lot of what you find from small farms at farmer’s markets will indeed be organic. Just speak to the seller and learn more about your small farms near by and their farming practices. There is also the option in investing in farm shares to help support local small farmers and receive fresh organic produce in return. If you have any questions about this, please connect with me and I'd be happy to share what I know. I am actually a CSA member and have invested in a local farm for the past two years.

2. Organic can be costly, so if you are going to purchase organic produce start with items your family eats regularly. In my house we ALWAYS have baby spinach in the fridge because we love it so much and use it in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, baby spinach is high on the ‘dirty dozen’ list, so it is one of the items I choose to buy organic (even though I don't purchase all organic produce). In addition, if you do want to start purchasing more organic produce for a cheaper price, try bulk stores like Costco or Walmart and the frozen organic produce first. Both the stores and frozen selection allow for a cheaper price point.

3. Be familiar with the dirty dozen list, this way you can take extra precaution with washing these fruits and veggies or even peeling some to help reduce exposure. For example, although apple skins contain a lot of fibre, perhaps you peel for your child to help reduce pesticide exposure or perhaps you choose organic to help limit exposure.

4. Always wash your fruit and veggies well, regardless of whether the item is organic or not. Soak produce for 1-2 minutes before rinsing well. There is also the option of using different commercial cleaners that help eliminate residue beyond water’s capabilities.

Do you have any favourite products? If so, please let me know!

5. Try planting some of your own herbs, fruits and veggies this summer. You know exactly what is going in and onto that food. It’s also a fun activity for families and great way to get kids excited about trying new fruits and veggies they helped grow and create!

If you have any tips or tricks that work well for your household or family, I’d love to hear them.

Cheers to happy and healthy eating!

Until next time,

Eat Right Feel Right – Angela XO

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