Avoid The Dirty Dozen

What’s the big deal about organic food? What makes organic worth the price? What does organic produce mean, anyway?

These are questions I often get asked.

Aiden 2What is Organic?
As defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), organic foods are those grown WITHOUT the use of pesticides, petroleum- or sewage-based fertilizers, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering and irradiation.

What If It’s Not Organic?
If it’s not organic, than it’s most likely grown WITH pesticides, petroleum- or sewage-based fertilizers, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering, or irradiation.

When eat fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue, we are also ingesting poisons which have been designed to kill insects, weeds, small rodents and other pests. These poisons accumulate in our bodies and may make us very sick. Pesticides can suppress the immune system, our first line of defense against disease. A 2001 study by the Center for Disease Control found that Americans have a variety of chemicals in their bodies, which may lead to health problems, including cancers.

The chemicals in Aiden’s food affect him differently than an adult.

We forget that children are not miniature adults. Their bodies are still developing. In fact, what may be acceptable for one child, may cause a problem in another. Picky eaters usually ingest more chemicals than other children, because the food they willingly eat is junk food.

What’s Acceptable?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets the standard for “acceptable” pesticide residue for fruit and vegetables. (I want to know what makes it acceptable.) While the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has done it’s own analysis of 87,000 government tests conducted between 2000 and 2007. EWA developed “The Dirty Dozen” list of the most pesticide contaminated produce.

The produce was given a score: 100 is the highest pesticide load and 0 the least.

What Are The Dirty Dozen?
The Dirty Dozen are the top 12 fruit and vegetables with the highest pesticide load. They were peaches (100), apples (93), sweet bell pepper (83), celery (82), nectarines (81), strawberries (80), cherries (73), kale (69), lettuce (67), imported grapes (66), carrots and pears (63). It only makes sense that these should be the first organic fruit and vegetables you purchase.

It’s interesting that most items on the lower end of the pesticide list, the outer layer is thrown away.  Those with the lowest pesticide levels were onions (1), avocados (1), frozen sweet corn and peas (2), pineapples (7), mangoes (9), asparagus (10), kiwi 13), cabbage  (17), eggplant (20), papaya (20) and watermelon (26).

Avoid Pesticides
To avoid as many pesticides as possible, you’ll want to eat organic produce. A good place to begin is to avoid The Dirty Dozen and purchase organic instead.

When you eat fruit with an outside covering which is not consumed (the husk of an ear of corn is discarded and so is the peel of a banana), some of the pesticides are thrown out with the outer layer…but not all. The majority of pollutants are absorbed into the plant and can’t be washed away. Still, a thorough washing will remove some of the pollutants. Also, all produce has been touched by an average of 20 people before you purchase it. That’s the people who harvest, transport, stock the market as well as customers. So always wash your produce.

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4 thoughts on “Avoid The Dirty Dozen

  1. md says:

    So what’s the process like for a farmer to get their goods certified as “organic”? If it’s a USDA term, then I assume there’s some paperwork or application involved. I remember reading about some NY-area farmers complaining that the process was prohibitive, but I don’t know the facts behind it. Food that is local and organic is the best, but I wonder how much local farmers market food is actually organic, just not labeled as such due to a troublesome process associated with the term “organic”. Of course, I would also not jump to the conclusion that farmers market stalls are representing small farmers — they could be relatively large scale producers, just so long as they’re local 🙂

  2. Rhonda Bolich-Lampo says:

    A couple of add-on thoughts to this discussion…
    Have you ever tried a conventional banana and then an organic banana? We had this experience one time and have never gone back to conventional bananas. The taste of an organic banana is sooo much better…like a banana should taste.

    There is a mis-perception that Farmer’s Markets are organic produce. Most are not. You have to specifically ask how the produce is grown to know for sure.

    Also, there is an excellent book “The Body Restoration Plan” by Dr. Paula Baillie-Hamilton who is an expert in human metabolism. She has studied chemical calories for years and talks about how you can eliminate chemical calories and repair your body’s natural slimming system. The chemicals used to grow crops also grow us. Think about it…chemicals don’t always get washed off or cooked out and so if it’s in the fruit or vegetable it gets into you too. Lettuce and strawberries are two of the biggest culprits. The strawberries that are the size of your palm are hybrids. My grandmother who grew up on a strawberry farm in Missouri can’t believe they grow that big. The strawberries grow that big because of the chemicals. Typical strawberries are about an inch in size.

  3. Thomas Byro says:

    I grew up in a remote Low Saxon speaking farming village in Germany. Pesticides were unknown. Fertilizer consisted of manure generated on the farm itself. I never thought twice about picking an apple off the tree and eating it without washing it (although I would be mindful of worms in the apple). Come to think of it, I cannot remember the last time I found a worm in an apple. In light of what you are saying, that is a disturbing thought.

    My interest had been in taste. In that sense, Organic is not necessarily a spectacular improvement. However, what does make for a spectacular improvement is grass fed vs grain fed and free range vs cage fed. If you are ever in the area of Newville, PA, stop of at the farm of Mark and Maryanne Nolt. They are Old Order Mennonite and they follow organic farming practises. The cows are fed on grass from the pasture and sileage and the chicken coops are moved to a new location every day so that the chickens can feast on grass, worms and slugs and other disgusting things. The milk is not pasteurized or homogenized and the egg yolks are a somewhat orange color rather than a pale yellow. The eggs actually have a taste and the milk tastes like another substance altogether compared to the commercial stuff in the supermarket. At this point, they no longer sell milk to the milk truck. Except for the milk that they sell from their farm store, all the milk is used to make their own cheese. I do have a problem with the cheese. It is not aged long enough. They simply sell it out too fast.

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