To buy or not to buy… Organic?

to buy organic or not

I think this is the question that is on many people’s minds as some are very much aware of the pesticides in our fresh produce, whilst many, on the other hand, even distrust Organic label all together.

One is for sure, organic produce is a lot more expensive than its regular non-organic counterparts. It could be anywhere from 50% to 200% more expensive. There are many reasons for it – but it is mainly limited supply and intensity of the labour involved that is driving the prices up…

Why should we worry about pesticides?

Pesticides are poisons and, unfortunately, they can harm more than just the “pests” which they are supposed to target. They are toxic and exposure to pesticides can cause a number of health effects. They are linked to a range of serious illnesses and diseases from respiratory problems to cancer.

Pesticides are all around us – parks, pavements and playgrounds. Many people buy pesticides off the shelf for home and garden use. And finally, pesticide residues found on and in our food also puts us at risk.

Exposure to some can be acutely toxic, some cause toxicity over a prolonged period of time. Some cause cancers, some mess up our hormonal balance.

And then there is a combined effect of several where presence of one triggers other to be altered and act differently in combination with others that it would on its own (cocktail effect). This is the most dangerous one as prolonged exposure to cocktail effect is not yet known.

So, I think we can all agree that we need to pay more attention at the quality of food we buy. Organic is one way to buy produce and to be at least slightly at rest, assured that we are not putting our health at risk.

So, if you are not finding the costs of organic produce always affordable, here is what I suggest:

1. CHOOSE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES FROM THE “CLEAN LIST”

You may have heard about the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen… I think this a good place to start, so we can see what we can choose from a clean list that may not be worth buying organic in the first place.

Environmental Working Group, EWG – a non-profit, non-partisan organisation is dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, but their report is specifically concerned with vegetables and fruits in the US and some of this is certainly transferable worldwide or at least indicative of what some of the most problematic fruits and vegetables might be.

The Pesticide Action Network UK have devised the Best & Worst Food for Pesticide Residues and I like their work as they list foods that have a single pesticide and foods found with multiple of pesticides.

Here are the cleanest that can be bought non-organic:

EWG’s CLEAN 15 (USA): 1.Avocados/ 2. Sweet Corn/ 3. Pineapples/ 4. Cabbage/ 5. Sweet Peas (frozen)/ 6. Onions/ 7. Asparagus/ 8. Mangoes/ 9. Papayas/ 10. Kiwi/ 11. Aubergine/ 12. Grapefruit/ 13. Cantaloupe/Melon/ 14. Cauliflower/ 15. Sweet potatoes

PAN UK’S Best Fruit and Veggies with least pesticides: 1.Corn (cob)/ 2. Leeks/ 3. Star Fruit/ 4. Aubergines/ 5. Plums/ 6. Onions/ 7. Ginger/ 7. Exotic Fruits/ 8. Chilli/ 9. Kiwi Fruit/ 10. Peppers/ 11. Celery/ 12. Spinach/ 13. Banana/ 14. Raspberries/ 15. Other Berries/ 16. Melon

So, let’s than see that makes the Dirty Dozen list… or more than a Dozen:

EWG’S DIRTY DOZEN (USA): 1.Apples/ 2. Strawberries/ 3. Grapes/ 4. Celery/ 5. Peaches/ 6. Spinach/ 7. Sweet Bell Peppers/ 8. Nectarines/ 9. Cucumbers/ 10. Cherry Tomatoes/ 11. Snap Peas / 12. Potatoes.

PAN UK’S WORST FRUIT & VEGGIE LIST (with multiple residues): 1.Citrus (oranges, limes, lemons, nectarines)/ 2. Pineapples/ 3. Pears/ 4. Apples/ 5. Grapes/ 6. Strawberries/ 7. Peaches/ 8. Tomatoes/ 9. Apricots/ 10. Parsnips/ 11. Cucumber/ 12. Carrots/ 13. Lettuce, prepackaged salad leaves/ 14. Beans/ 15. Peas in a pod/ 16. Raspberries/ 17. Courgettes and Marrows/ 18. Cherries/ 19. Herbs/ 20. Kale

PAN UK’s worst other foods with presence of single and multiple pesticide residues: 1. Raisins (100%)/ 2. Dried grapes/ 3. Pesto/ 4. Tinned Beans/ 5. Herbal infusions and teas/ 6. Tinned Oranges/ 7. Tinned Strawberries/ 8. Wine/ 9. Tinned Cherries/ 10. Crisps/ 11. Oats (90%)/ 12. Processed Chicken/ 13. Spices/ 14. Wheat/ 15. Cereal Bars/ 16. Garlic/ 17. Mango/ 18. Prepared fresh fruit

As oats and wheat have been highly contaminated (90% of the samples) with single and multiple residues of pesticides, PAN UK found that two thirds of the breads are too. Read full report here.

The most concerning is that PAN UK found that Children in England are being exposed to a cocktail of pesticide residues in the fresh produce they receive through the Department of Health’s School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS). 123 different pesticides were detected and for just 1p extra per day all the produce could be sourced organically. Read their full report here.

So, I believe it is good to check annual reports on what makes the dirty and clean list & try to eat from the CLEAN list as much as possible. Also, it is probably not worth buying those organic.

Then, what do we do about our favourites on the DIRTY list?

2. TREAT YOUR PRODUCE TO MINIMISE THE PESTICIDES

My mum used to do this a lot. She would wash the produce, where possible, in the solution of vinegar and water that seems to be a recommended an effective method at getting rid of harmful bacteria and some pesticides.

Mix the solution of 9 parts water and 1 part white vinegar and soak the produce in this vinegar solution allowing it to soak briefly, then swish it around in the solution and rinse before consuming.

This will help reduce the pesticides on the skin and time spent treating it can be well worth your health.

However, due to the nature of many of the new systemic type of pesticides, residues are contained within the entire piece of produce rather than just on the surface, which is especially true for any with soft skin. Think of tomatoes, cucumber, salad leaves, etc…

As a result, peeling or washing fruit and vegetables before eating is often not enough to prevent exposure to pesticides.

Then, it is your choice whether to buy those from the “dirty” list Organic or not.

3. BUY LOCAL PRODUCE

Local produce from trusted farmers might not guarantee that the produce does not have pesticides, but it may offer a better choice as it means that food has not traveled long, like 10 000 miles to get to your table, or picked green to reach you ripe in time… And this certainly off sets some carbon footprint. You also get a benefit of a fresher and more nutritious food. Perhaps, this is indeed a good compromise.

It is worth to note that organic produce that has traveled many miles to get to your table may have no pesticides, but is highly unlikely to have many nutrients. I would always go for nutrients, if I had to choose!

4. BUY FROZEN VEGETABLES

The truth is, if frozen at a time of picking, frozen vegetables and fruits can be even more nutritious because they retained all the nutrients whilst being frozen, according to research. So, if you go for those from the “clean” list – you are winning!

5. GROW YOUR OWN

If you have time and space, you can grow your own fruit and vegetables.

I have a remarkable friend in Milan who converted her entire roof top terrace into a garden that produces an incredible harvest each summer and autumn that she partly uses herself and partly needs to give away.

There are more and more urban projects of communities coming together and growing fresh produce.

In today’s world where food is less and less nutritious whilst Dirty Dozen list is getting way longer each year, it is not just our own health now, but the health of our future generations that depends on people getting together and finding solutions that will change the way we not only eat, but grow our food.

Governments will not solve a single thing for us, but minds and green fingers of people joined together just might!

And any of us could be an agent for change!

Start by finding out who is already doing something in the community or start your own movement if you have the drive and the passion for it!

If you are already doing something like this, let me know, share your story. I find stories like this incredibly inspiring as they give hope that… well, that there IS hope in the first place…

Thank you for reading and here is to you and your healthy, toxin free, active lifestyle!

Yours in health,

Sanela

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