Pesticides in Produce

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Pesticides are commonly found on different produce like fruits and vegetables. They’re used to deter things such as insects as well as prevent the growth of fungi, but what shoppers might not know is these pesticides can actually be harmful for their health.

Because the main job of pesticides is to wipe out these living organisms, it doesn’t necessarily come as a shock that they could pose potential health risks. However, those risks depend on the toxicity of the ingredients of the pesticide as well as how often you are exposed to them. Other risk factors such as age, pregnancy, and suppressed immune systems may also make individuals more sensitive to the effects of a pesticide than others. While ingesting foods that have been contaminated with pesticides may be cause for concern, those who apply pesticides to produce are also at a greater risk of developing health problems as they are exposed to them on a regular basis.

Studies have linked pesticides to a multitude of health problems, such as cancers like childhood leukemia, lymphoma, breast cancer, and brain cancer – as well as potential links to cancer of the prostate, liver and pancreas. Neurological issues, such as Parkinson’s disease, as well as neurodevelopmental issues in children including impaired motor skills and behavioural problems. Problems with hormone disruption such as estrogens, androgens and thyroid which may also have an impact on reproduction and fertility; and lastly, issues involving irritation of the skin, eyes and lungs.

For the last fourteen years, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has published what’s called their ‘Dirty Dozen’ list in effort to make shoppers aware of how their favourite produce ranks in terms of pesticide contamination – with 2018’s list being released this past Tuesday. Atop that list, for the third consecutive year in a row, was strawberries, which were found to have residues of at least 20 different pesticides – an astounding number. Following strawberries, in descending order, was spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and sweet bell peppers, which all tested positive for more than one pesticide residue as well as higher concentrations compared to other types of produce. Alternatively, produce that was found to contain the least pesticides and lowest concentrations included sweet corn, avocados, cabbage, onions, sweet peas, asparagus, eggplant, cauliflower, broccoli, pineapple, mango, kiwi, honeydew, and cantaloupe.

Does this mean you should stop eating the aforementioned foods? Absolutely not. In fact, Dr. Ali Ghahary encourages patients to include more fruits and vegetables into their diets given their many benefits. You should, however, switch to organic produce. The difference between organic and non-organic produce is the chemicals used. While the pesticides used on non-organic produce are synthetically made, pesticides found on organic produce are derived from naturally occurring sources such as plants; and while organic produce may be slightly more expensive than the non-organic fruits and vegetables, it will be much healthier for you in the long-term.

To talk more about healthy eating, follow Dr. Ghahary on Twitter at @DrAliGhahary. Don’t forget you can also follow him on Instagram and Facebook, too!

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