They’re colorful. They’re bountiful. They’re downright delicious. And they’re packaged perfectly to deliver loads of vitamins, minerals, and fiber to your body.
You’ve heard that fruits and vegetables are important in our diets. But did you know that as of 2017, only about 10% of Americans were eating enough of them to satisfy health quotas (CDC)?
If you’re one of those anti-veggie-eaters who for whatever reason reads this column (let’s speak after class!), you might perk up when you hear this. Since 2004, The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit, has conducted an annual study to monitor the amounts of pesticide residue found on 47 types of fruits and vegetables. This year, they determined, as they always do, a list of the 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest level of pesticide residue (while still within FDA-approved limits). They coin this list “The Dirty Dozen.” They also determined a list of the 15 fruits and vegetables with a relatively low amount of pesticide residue, called “The Clean Fifteen.”
An anti-veggie-eater would, of course, exploit the Dirty Dozen list by using it to prove that eating vegetables is too risky for her liking. But I use it differently.
Today, all conventional produce is grown with the use of chemicals, various pesticides and fertilizers that are sprayed on produce or used to treat seeds or soil. There are some 900 synthetic pesticides approved for use in conventional farming. Generally, the amounts we consume are not considered harmful. But nobody can say that eating chemicals is a good thing.
The alternative to conventional produce, aside from planting your own backyard crop, is purchasing organic produce. There are only 25 synthetic pesticides approved for use with organic produce. While some of these may also be harmful, the amount of pesticide residue found on organic produce has been shown to be significantly smaller than what is found on conventional produce. Over years of consuming pesticide-treated produce, that difference multiplies to become even more significant.
What this information means to me, as a health coach and health conscious mother and home cook, is twofold. Firstly, it tells me that certain fruits and vegetables are worth buying organic. That’s where the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list come in. Because organic produce is pretty expensive, I refer to these lists to figure out where to pick my battles. So this year, I’ll be opting to save money on buying conventional avocados and onions, but I will probably be choosing more often than not to spend on organic apples and potatoes. And besides, I really like the taste of organic Yukon gold potatoes better!
Secondly, it tells me that washing your fruits and vegetables is actually really important.
It’s unarguable that all produce, both conventional and organic, enter the grocery store, your cart, and your kitchen with measurable pesticide residue, and that part is not what we’re talking about when we refer to Hashem’s perfectly packaged vitamin deliveries. While some pesticides penetrate peels, most reside on the surface of fruits and vegetables.
Studies have shown that rinsing produce with plain water removes as much of the pesticides as does using commercial fruit and vegetable washes or mild detergents, though the studies did not analyze the amount of dirt and wax removed. In terms of pesticide removal, the mechanical action of rubbing the produce under tap water with or without commercial extras is equally effective. So if you’ll be doing the minimum, rinse all fresh produce under tap water for at least thirty seconds. If you want to go for the gold standard, studies show that soaking for 20 minutes and then washing with vinegar and water can remove on average 75% of the pesticide residue.
My colleague Esther Black of Jerusalem, certified health coach and health researcher, has her own tried and tested recommendation: for vegetables and hard-skinned fruits like apples, cherries and stone fruits, fill a large bowl with water and add a spoonful of baking soda, then add the veggies and soak for five minutes. After the soak, scrub with a vegetable brush and rinse well before using. You can do this in bulk to save time. She notes that berries should be left out of the bulk wash, though. Washing them in advance can make them spoil or grow moldy faster. Berries can be rinsed under cold water in a mesh strainer and then gently patted dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels just before you intend to eat them. (Disclaimer: we’re not talking about washing for bugs here!)
Though pesticides do pose some level of risk, we can do our utmost to minimize the impact they can have on ourselves and our families. We can choose our produce smartly. We can do our best to clean away whatever residue we can, and peel the fruits and vegetables that we can. But nobody, not even the most ardent anti-pesticidist, will tell you to cut back on your fruit and vegetable intake. The benefits of these sustaining power packs far outweigh the risks.
Sorry, anti-veggie-eater. You can come see me now.
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Bio: Rorie Weisberg, CHC, is the author of the newly released cookbook, Food You Love: That Loves You Back. Her passion? Making a healthy lifestyle doable and delicious, favorite foods included. Certified in integrative nutrition, Rorie is the health ambassador of Kosher.com, popular health columnist, lecturer, and founder and CEO of Full ‘N Free, LLC, an exclusive line of better-for-you baking essentials. To learn more about Rorie’s story, product line, courses, and live demos, visit www.fullnfree.com or follow her on Instagram at @fullnfree.