We’re all familiar with the phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. But while it’s scientifically accepted that eating a variety of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of developing serious health problems, non-organic fruits and veggies often harbour pesticides, which can prove detrimental to overall health and well-being.
It may to surprise you to learn that apples actually scored the highest on the Environmental Working Group’s list of the most pesticide-contaminated produce, ensuring their position among the Dirty Dozen – a group of 12 ostensibly healthy foods that ought to be avoided unless organic versions are available.
Of course, it’s hard to believe that your five a day could be doing you more harm than good. While we’re always being told to eat more fruit and vegetables, we’re rarely made aware of the different chemicals and fertilisers that go into producing them – chemicals and fertilisers which are liable to end up in your body if you don’t adhere to an organic lifestyle.
When you think about it, pesticides, which are used in huge quantities on non-organic farms, are expressly designed to kill insects. Toxic by design, these chemicals have been linked to a range of ailments, including various cancers and nervous system disorders.
In 2012, the American Academy of Paediatrics officially warned against the dangers of pesticide exposure, suggesting children’s health was particularly at risk.
The Environmental Working Group, experts in the effects of chemicals on the consumer, recommends we all try to reduce our exposure to potentially harmful pesticides by eating organic foods wherever possible.
As organic produce is cultivated in a pesticide free environment, where the use of artificial fertilisers and insecticides is prohibited, organic fruits and veggies are free from nasty chemicals.
Yet, although eating organic might be fantastic news for your body, it can take its toll on your budget. On average, an organic pineapple is twice the price of its non-organic cousin, while an organic mango can be three times as costly…
Don’t despair! Although certain foods are well worth the extra expense, a handful of non-organic fruits and vegetables – nicknamed the “Clean Fifteen” – are safe to consume, while non-organic versions of the “Dirty Dozen” should be avoided at all costs.
The Clean Fifteen
The Clean Fifteen includes avocados, melons, aubergines, grapefruit, kiwifruit, onions, papayas, mushrooms, mangos, pineapple, asparagus, sweet peas, sweet potatoes, cabbage and corn on the cob.
As you’ve probably realised, the Clean Fifteen are a hardy bunch, requiring fewer pesticides to produce and generally boasting thick skins, which can be peeled away and discarded before consumption.
An avocado’s tough outer casement, for instance, behaves a bit like a shield, making it impossible for pesticides to permeate the flesh and therefore safe, as well as delicious, to eat.
If you can’t square your budget with your desire to consume organic produce and avoid pesticides, a good compromise might be to buy non-organic versions of the Clean Fifteen, which can be peeled and then rinsed.
The Dirty Dozen
Standing in direct opposition to the Clean Fifteen are the Dirty Dozen, soft fruits such as apples, grapes, nectarines, peaches, strawberries and tomatoes, and thin-skinned veggies like celery, cucumber, chillies, potatoes, spinach and bell peppers.
On non-organic farms, powerful chemicals are used to protect the delicate Dirty Dozen from marauding insects. Even after they have been thoroughly washed, the Dirty Dozen remain polluted, registering potent quantities of harmful chemicals that ought to be avoided.
When it comes to bugs, plants grown in a pesticide-free environment rely on their own defences, making increased qualities of phytochemicals – antioxidants and vitamins used to stave off attack, which are an important element in combatting illness and maintaining vitality.
When fertilisers and pesticides are used, plants create fewer phytochemicals, resulting in a less nutritious, chemical-rich product.
A word to the wise: courgettes and kale should also be purchased with caution. Although not official members of the Dirty Dozen club, recent studies demonstrate that both kale and courgettes often contain high levels of pesticides thought to be particularly harmful to the nervous system.
The good news is that by doing nothing more than ensuring you buy organic versions of the Dirty Dozen, the Environmental Working Group has found that you can reduce your pesticide intake by up to 80%.
Organic versus non organic
If you want to avoid consuming pesticides and genetically engineered fruits and veggies, stick to organic produce.
However, if your budget won’t accommodate the extra expense, by avoiding non-organic variants of the Dirty Dozen, you can cut your chemical intake by a whopping 80%.
Since a breath-taking 99% of apples tested by the Environmental Working Group contained at least one pesticide residue, I’m afraid it’s no longer the case of “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”.
Perhaps we should forget the old adage and make sure our apples are organic instead.
Erika Doolan – Nutritionist