A portion of a recent news report by the New York Times regarding the stoppage by US food inspectors of import shipments of contaminated or defective foods from China, Denmark, and Mexico reads: "Produce from the Dominican Republic was stopped 817 times last year, usually for containing traces of illegal pesticides." At one point a few years back, tests done on fresh and processed foods and vegetables by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found nine foods with the highest levels of pesticide residues, listed below from most to least:
1) Oranges from Israel;
2) Blackberries from Guatemala;
3) Cheeses from Switzerland;
4) Oranges from New Zealand;
5) Pears from Colombia;
6) Snow peas from the Dominican Republic;
7) Raspberries from Guatemala;
8) Sweet peppers from the Dominican Republic; and
9) Spinach from Mexico.
Pesticides are a perfect example of life’s many trade-offs. For example, you want your family to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, but not pesticide residues. And it’s no secret that exposure to pesticides can be harmful. Prolonged exposure to high levels has been linked to neurological disorders, cancer, immune-system disruptions, hormonal imbalances, and, in children, developmental problems.
Health experts recommend eating between 5 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Yet some experts estimate that half of all fruits and vegetables contain pesticide residues, and about 40 percent carry residues from more than one pesticide. But despite these findings, experts say it is not necessary that we eat less produce. Hundreds of studies have demonstrated that eating more fruits and vegetables dramatically lowers cancer risk. And while produce may have pesticide residues, most of those are well below the maximum residue limits set by the FDA. Still, many people would like to cut their exposure to pesticide residues even more.
Fortunately, there are ways to further limit the amounts of pesticide residues in your food. Here are some tips from health experts:
– Eat a wide variety of foods to help limit your exposure to any one pesticide.
– Buy and eat certified-organic produce, which is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides.
– Eat domestic, seasonal produce, which – even if it’s not organic – typically contains fewer residues than imported, out-of-season produce. You can find it at your local farmers market.
– Always peel waxed produce. The wax itself is harmless, but it seals in pesticides.
– Remove the outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage, where most residues are.
– Go for bananas, oranges, and melons. These fruits are always peeled, so you are not likely to ingest much pesticide from them.
– Scrubbing your produce will go far to remove pesticides. Wash produce in running water with enough elbow grease to create some friction. Some produce without outer leaves or peels (such as strawberries, mushrooms, and spinach), though, absorbs pesticides at the cellular level, so washing won’t help much. These might be good organic choices.
As an additional health care tip from experts, know that meat products also contain pesticides: Livestock animals ingest them in their feed, while some fish absorb pesticides from the agricultural and industrial runoff in the waters they inhabit. Because many pesticides accumulate in fat cells, one way to avoid them is to go lean, choosing only low-fat meat, fish, and dairy products. And go easy on liver, in which pesticides can also accumulate.