With the summer months upon us, fresh produce is on everyone’s radar! However, with the current E.coli outbreak in romaine lettuce, many people are becoming wary of what exactly is in our fresh produce… and how safe it is to consume. Not to mention the growing evidence that environmental toxins and chemicals can adversely effect our health, being an informed and educated consumer is becoming more important than ever!
If you haven’t heard of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), you should check them out ASAP. Their website is stocked full of awesome information about everything environmental health and safety, including a growing database on beauty and skincare products. They also compile a yearly list of – you guessed it – the “dirtiest” and “cleanest” produce on the market.
If you’ve never heard of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists, they are great guidelines to reducing your pesticide and chemical exposure. The Dirty Dozen are the 12 foods with the highest levels of chemical contamination, and it’s commonly recommended to purchase these foods organic to avoid the high level of chemicals in conventionally grown varieties. The Clean Fifteen – the 15 foods with the lowest levels of chemicals – are considered the safest and healthiest to consume, both for your body and the environment.
But what if I don’t want to/can’t afford to buy organic?
I won’t lie, buying organic is typically more expensive and is a luxury for the majority of us. However, if you do want to decrease your toxin exposure without breaking the bank, here’s a few suggestions:
- Buy Clean Fifteen fruits and vegetables more often, and buy those on the Dirty Dozen list less often.
- If one of your favorite fruits or vegetables is on the Dirty Dozen list, consider splurging on that one item if you eat a lot of it – or buy it organic half of the time to reduce your exposure.
- Check out the frozen section of your grocery store – the frozen organic strawberries may be cheaper than buying a fresh organic pint, but still have the same nutritional quality as fresh!
Why should I care about my chemical exposure?
Although there is a lot of controversy regarding agricultural chemical use (something I hope to talk about in a later blog post), evidence has emerged over the past decade or so showing detrimental health effects in humans. Most notably, pesticides have been shown to negatively impact the neurological health of children – toxicity of these chemicals at a young, growing age can contribute to behavioral problems, poor brain development, and reduced cognitive function. Additionally, studies have shown that higher pesticide and chemical exposure can increase the risk of fertility issues in women.
If you’d like to read more about these safety concerns, the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, and other related information, you can read the Environmental Working Group’s full summary report for 2018 here.
UPDATE (MAY 24, 2018): A research study from the University of Guelph was just published demonstrating an association between exposure to certain Canadian pesticides and an increased risk for Parkinson’s disease. You can read the summary report at Science Daily here.
How can I use this information?
Think of these lists as guidelines rather than bibles – the convenience and affordability of these foods, as well as the motivation to decrease toxin exposure, is different for each of us. However, use these lists to be an informed consumer and make choices that are right for you, your values, and your lifestyle.
The tips above can help make any swaps more affordable, like selectively buying organic, buying frozen organic fruits and vegetables, or simply favoring those on the Clean Fifteen list. If you’re lucky enough to have a farmer’s market nearby, talk to your local farmers and producers! Not only is it a great way to be informed about local agriculture practices, but you may find some beautiful, fresh, clean produce right at home. Speaking of home… try growing your own produce! Although a garden is a large time commitment, it is very rewarding to grow your own produce for part of the year (and is a great way to teach kids about food, cooking, and health!).
Find the 2018 Dirty Dozen list here: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php
Find the 2018 Clean Fifteen list here: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/clean-fifteen.php
Bring on the summer sunshine! Talk soon friends!