CLEAN UP IN THE PRO­DUCE AISLE

DOES YOUR SALAD COME WITH A SIDE OF DDT? HERE’S THE 411 ON THE CLEAN­LI­NESS OF YOUR FRUITS AND VEG­GIES TO HELP YOU BEST IN­VEST YOUR PRO­DUCE DOL­LARS.

Oxygen - - Go Pro | Dream It, Do It - By Jill Schild­house

To those of a cer­tain age, The Dirty Dozen is an award­win­ning film star­ring Lee Marvin about a sui­cide mis­sion on a Nazi-in­hab­ited French chateau dur­ing WWII. These days, how­ever, the name has been clev­erly re­pur­posed by the En­vi­ron­men­tal Work­ing Group, a non­profit that com­piles a vir­tual who’s who of con­ven­tion­ally grown pro­duce with the high­est and low­est amounts of pes­ti­cide residue.

PES­TI­CIDE PRIMER

Osten­si­bly, straw­ber­ries should pro­vide you with tons of vi­ta­mins, min­er­als and fiber, but they also could se­cretly be de­liv­er­ing a hearty dose of chem­i­cals, fungi­cide or even DDT to you and your fam­ily. “Con­ven­tional agri­cul­ture con­tin­ues to use large quan­ti­ties of toxic pes­ti­cides, and USDA and FDA researcher­s de­tect residue on many of the fruits and veg­eta­bles they test,” says Alexis Temkin, Ph.D., EWG tox­i­col­o­gist.

What’s more, those 40,900 pro­duce sam­ples are not care­fully plucked from a choice vine and tested for residue in the field. They are ac­tu­ally tested after they have been pur­chased, brought home and washed in prepa­ra­tion for con­sump­tion. “You are what you eat,” quips Vin­cent Es­pos­ito, MS, DC, health coach and nu­tri­tion spe­cial­ist. “In the case of food grown in syn­thetic fer­til­iz­ers, pes­ti­cides and her­bi­cides, this could not be more true, be­cause as con­sumers, we end up in­gest­ing these residues.”

Un­der the Food Qual­ity Pro­tec­tion Act, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency must en­sure that all pes­ti­cides used on food in the U.S. meet strin­gent safety stan­dards, and over the years, they have col­lec­tively banned the use of cer­tain prod­ucts be­cause of ne­far­i­ous side ef­fects. But the ques­tion re­mains: Do these le­gal “tol­er­ance” lev­els ad­e­quately pro­tect pub­lic health? “Pes­ti­cides are toxic by de­sign and are cre­ated ex­pressly to kill liv­ing or­gan­isms,” Temkin says. “Many stud­ies show dis­turb­ing links be­tween pes­ti­cides and a va­ri­ety of health prob­lems, in­clud­ing brain and ner­vous sys­tem tox­i­c­ity, cancer and hor­mone dis­rup­tion.”

Straw­ber­ries — cur­rently No. 1 on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list — were found to con­tain up to 81 dif­fer­ent pes­ti­cides per sam­ple, in­clud­ing car­ben­dazim — a hor­monedis­rupt­ing fungi­cide — and bifen­thrin, which has been iden­ti­fied as a pos­si­ble car­cino­gen.

CHEM­ISTRY LES­SON

To date, there are very few stud­ies in­ves­ti­gat­ing the pos­si­ble con­se­quences of long-term pes­ti­cide ex­po­sure, in­clud­ing those com­monly used in house­holds. “One of the most pop­u­lar pes­ti­cides in the U.S. is Roundup,” says Kelly Bay, DC, CNS, CDN, func­tional medicine doc­tor spe­cial­iz­ing in nu­tri­tion and chronic ill­ness. “Roundup con­tains the ac­tive chem­i­cal glyphosate, which is prob­lem­atic to an­i­mals and hu­mans in many ways.”

Glyphosate, which is also used on con­ven­tion­ally grown pro­duce, is an en­docrine disruptor, which means it can mimic cer­tain hor­mones in your body and could ac­tu­ally al­ter your phys­i­ol­ogy and ge­netic makeup at the cel­lu­lar level. En­docrine dis­rup­tors have been linked to prob­lems with fer­til­ity, GI func­tion, nutri­ent de­liv­ery and in­flam­ma­tory re­sponse, and they can in­ter­fere with the pro­duc­tion of thy­roid hor­mone, sero­tonin and dopamine. Both the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion and the In­ter­na­tional Agency for Re­search on Cancer have deemed glyphosate a prob­a­ble hu­man car­cino­gen, and Cal­i­for­nia’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency lists glyphosate as a car­cino­genic chem­i­cal known to cause birth de­fects, re­pro­duc­tive harm and cancer.

The thing is, glyphosate is only one of 225 dif­fer­ent pes­ti­cides that are found daily on Amer­i­can pro­duce, which bears the ques­tion: If cer­tain lev­els of one pes­ti­cide are deemed “safe” for con­sump­tion, what hap­pens if there are “safe” lev­els of 200 dif­fer­ent pes­ti­cides on one sin­gle pro­duce item? “Most pes­ti­cide lev­els fall be­low gov­ern­ment lim­its and are le­gal, but le­gal lim­its are not al­ways safe,” Temkin says. “Ev­i­dence from epi­demi­o­log­i­cal stud­ies show that chronic ex­po­sure to low doses of pes­ti­cide mix­tures may carry health risks. And in 2018, data from Har­vard Univer­sity School of Pub­lic Health found an as­so­ci­a­tion of foods high in pes­ti­cide residue and fer­til­ity prob­lems.”

THE GREAT OR­GANIC DE­BATE

Ar­guably one of the best ways to avoid ex­ces­sive pes­ti­cide con­sump­tion is to pur­chase or­gan­i­cally grown pro­duce, and both Es­pos­ito and Temkin rec­om­mend eat­ing or­ganic when­ever pos­si­ble. “There are laws around grow­ing or­ganic pro­duce that pro­hibit the use of most pes­ti­cides used in con­ven­tional agri­cul­ture,” Temkin says. “In fact, a re­cent study found that after only six days of eat­ing or­ganic food, adults and chil­dren had on av­er­age a 60 per­cent re­duc­tion in the lev­els of syn­thetic pes­ti­cides in their urine, as com­pared to when they were eat­ing a con­ven­tional diet.”

Or­ganic pro­duce is sig­nif­i­cantly more ex­pen­sive than con­ven­tional pro­duce, how­ever, and as such, it may not fit within ev­ery­one’s bud­get. Yet ex­perts ar­gue that econ­omy should not de­ter peo­ple from eat­ing fruits and veg­eta­bles al­to­gether. “The truth is that the health ben­e­fits ob­tained from eat­ing fruits and veg­eta­bles of any type far out­weigh any pos­si­ble risk of con­sum­ing pes­ti­cides,” says Toby Ami­dor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND. “And most stud­ies have failed to prove that or­ganic pro­duce con­tains higher nutri­ent lev­els.”

Here is where the EWG’s lists can help you make in­formed pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions about which items are worth the ex­tra money and where you can save a buck or two. For ex­am­ple, since straw­ber­ries are ranked No. 1 on the Dirty Dozen list, con­sider buy­ing or­ganic berries in­stead. On the other hand, there’s no need to buy or­ganic av­o­ca­dos be­cause any and all residue on the skin is peeled off and dis­carded, leav­ing squeaky clean flesh un­der­neath.

“When it comes to pro­duce, be pro-choice,” Ami­dor ad­vises. “Choose what­ever fits your life­style, whether it’s or­ganic, con­ven­tional, ugly or lo­cal. Be proud of what­ever you choose, as all are healthy.”

A study pub­lished in JAMA In­ter­nal Medicine found that among more than 69,000 par­tic­i­pants, those with the high­est fre­quency of or­ganic food con­sump­tion had 25 fewer can­cers than in­di­vid­u­als who did not eat or­ganic food.

Even though DDT has been banned since the 1970s, it still ap­pears on 40 per­cent of all tested spinach sam­ples bea­cuse of resid­ual amounts that per­sist in the soil some 50 years later.

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