Believe it or not, many foods that we think are good for us are not so healthy after all. Why? Because not only are food choices important but also the quality of food matters.
Unfortunately, many dangerous and often very toxic ingredients find their way into your food despite FDA regulations and food labeling. They are probably hidden inside the healthy foods you’ll eat today, without you even knowing it.
You may ask: “How is this possible?”
We all know that adding more fruits and vegetables to our diet has many health benefits. What you should be concerned is the amount of pesticides they may contain.
A new study shows that you may be unknowingly getting at least 10 different pesticides with your food if you are eating 5 recommended servings of fruit and vegetables every day.You may or may not experience immediate effect of these hidden toxins but they could be slowly making you sick and cause weight gain over time.
Why Your Food Is Contaminated With Pesticides
Pesticides are used by the farmers to protect crops and food supply from weeds, insects and fungal diseases. Some amount of pesticide residues may stay in or on our food after the chemicals were applied. The pesticides “break down” over time. This means that less residue is left by the time the food is served on our plates.
The type of pesticides used, application conditions and what food was treated determine the rate of the “break down”. This means the amount and nature of pesticide residue can be different from one pesticide or food type to another.
All pesticides must be registered before they can be used in the USA. FDA establishes, monitors and enforces residue limits in imported and domestic foods as well as in drinking water to ensure food safety.
Currently there are about 16,000 pesticides on the US market. Due to a congressional loophole more than 10,000 of them were approved for use in the USA by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1978 with minimal testing and allowed into the country.
Since then the Environmental Protection Agency has been restricting the use of many pesticides that were proven to be toxic later. However, the problem is that their residuals can still be detected in some crops grown today and they continue to affect our health.
For example, two highly toxic organophosphates were actively used in agriculture during the 70s and 80s but then were withdrawn. Twenty years later their residuals are still found in leafy greens, zucchini and yellow crookneck squash in substantial amounts.
Another problem is that years later more and more chemicals that were once thought to be safe continue to be found to have a potential risk to humans and particularly to children. Just recently one of the European top food safety agencies suggested to introduce new restrictions on two pesticides acetamiprid and imidacloprid.
The most shocking fact is that these chemicals were used on produce in the USA for years and were found to “affect the developing human nervous system” in young children. Between 2006 and 2011 FDA detected pesticides acetamiprid and imidacloprid in 10% to 20% of at least 14 types of commonly-grown fruits and vegetables including those that were used to produce baby food.
For years, children in the U.S. have been eating foods contaminated with these two pesticides even though there was little or no research to prove that they wouldn’t harm children’s health. The truth is we don’t know all the possible negative effects of the short- and long-term pesticide exposure on our health even if it is currently considered to be safe.
What we know is that continual exposure to pesticide-laden fruit and vegetables can lead to health risks like nerve disorders, birth defects in children, disruption of the endocrine system and even cause cancer.
Pesticides Act As Endocrine Disruptors
Many pesticides interfere with the ability of the endocrine glands to function and secrete hormones. Depending on their type pesticides can:
1. Cause estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effects
- Bind to estrogen and androgen receptors and prevent your own hormones from their action.
- This also includes estrogen mimicry when a change in the pattern of hormone synthesis and metabolism results in estrogen dominance and androgenic effects such as facial hair growth, acne, male pattern balding and weight gain.
- Alter progesterone metabolism
2. Cause androgenic or anti-androgenic effects (altered testosterone and steroid metabolism)
3. Increase incidence of thyroid disorders:
- Decrease or increase the production of T4 and T3 thyroid hormones, act as thyroid and iodine peroxidase inhibitors decreasing thyroid hormone levels
- Directly affect the thyroid gland function and its size, alter thyroxine metabolism and increase TSH
- Act as thyroid and liver carcinogens (confirmed by studies on rats, mice and pigs)
- Interfere with hypothalamus and the pituitary gland function
4. Affect reproductive function causing infertility, un-ovulation and birth defects. Some pesticides are lipophilic which means that they are stored in the body fat and can be transferred to the developing offspring via the placenta or via the egg potentially affecting many generations.
5. Induce stress related response
6. Weaken the immune system (immune-toxicity) and are well-known environmental triggers of thyroid autoimmunity
How You Can Reduce Your Risks
There are no doubts that pesticides pose significant health risks. That said health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables still outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.
The key is to reduce your exposure to pesticides as much as possible:
1. If you want to ensure there are no pesticides on and in your fruits and vegetables, consider buying organic produce.
The strongest point of organic agriculture is that it allows you to avoid the toxic exposure to pesticides entirely.
You may say that organic food is more expensive and it is true. However, some organic items are not much more expensive than the conventionally-grown.
2. You can favor vegetables over fruits because fruits contain pesticide residuals more often than vegetables. However, there is a great variation between different kinds of crops due to a different ability to accumulate pesticides.
3. You can lower your pesticide exposure by avoiding the most contaminated produce and choosing the least contaminated fruits and vegetables.
To help you to determine your better food choices a non-profit US organisation Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) published their annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
This guide ranks domestic and imported to the USA fruits and vegetables by their highest ability to accumulate the greatest amount and number of pesticides. Results of their tests are based on examination of pesticide residue testing data from the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.
The Environmental Working Group divided fruits and vegetables in two main and one subcategory:
3.1. The Clean Fifteen™ represents fruits and vegetables with the lowest pesticide levels and includes
3.2. The Dirty Dozen™ represents the produce with the highest pesticide levels and includes
3.3. A Plus category includes produce that is commonly contaminated with pesticides exceptionally toxic to the nervous system. It includes domestically-grown green beans, domestically-grown summer squash – zucchini and yellow crookneck squash and leafy greens, specifically kale and collards.
It is important to note that most zucchini, Hawaiian papaya, soy and some varieties of sweet corn sold in USA are produced with genetically modified seeds. Since U.S. law does not require to label GMO produce, EWG advises to purchase the organically-grown versions of these items if you want to minimize your toxic exposure.
The produce listed in the Dirty Dozen and Plus categories includes the most important fruits and vegetables to buy organic. If you cannot afford to buy these items organic consider to replace them with produce listed in the Clean Fifteen™ category.
By following these simple rules you can reduce your pesticide exposure from foods up to 80%.
If you are wondering what else can you do to reduce environmental exposure to toxins your next step would be to look into what toxic exposure you are getting in your home. This can include household items, cleaning products, plastics, cosmetics and medications.
By choosing household products with all-natural ingredients you can significantly reduce your toxicity exposure. Here is the best way how you can replace toxic products with better alternatives.
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1. EWG’s 2013 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™
2. Pesticides: Evaluation of Environmental Pollution edited by Hamir S. Rathore, Leo M.L. Nollet, 2012