Colourful, healthy, nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables are the first choice of food for many healthy living enthusiasts. While that’s certainly a great start towards healthy living, the pesticides that are found in these foods is a great concern for many. In today’s article, I discuss how to get rid of these dangerous pesticides from your food to enhance your health.
What Are Pesticides?
A pesticide is a substance that kills, repels or mitigates insects or other organisms harmful to cultivating plants or animals. Pesticides also include disinfectants, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides.
Pesticides are widely used in conventional agricultural production to prevent or reduce losses by pests. This, in turn, improves yield as well as the quality of the produce. Its use is also important for the plant’s cosmetic appeal, which is often a decisive factor for the consumers to buy these foods. That’s right. The way that produce looks matters to some.
Another important point to keep in mind is that the use of pesticides also safeguards food-security for billions of people around the world.
With all its glory, there is a major downside to the use of pesticides. The most pressing issues are their negative impact on our health as well as our environment.
Pesticides Impact on Our Health
When we consume conventionally produced food, we’re exposed to pesticides. To be fair though, in the transition time from the farm to the fork, the levels of pesticides do shrink thereby making it unclear how this reduced level of pesticide residue affects our health.
This is because the risk assessment of the impact of pesticides either on human health or on the environment is not an easy and particularly accurate process. From weather to soil to the toxicity or dosage of pesticides, there are way too many factors that influence this process.
Nevertheless, we do have research studies that analyse the health of farmers who are frequently exposed to pesticides. These farmers are subjected to many diseases, including insomnia, headaches and many neurological symptoms. Among these farmers, there is also a 70% increase in Parkinson’s disease and up to 200% increased risk of developing diabetes.
While it’s unclear how each and every type and levels of pesticide affects our health, we know based on this study from the Punjab Agricultural University of India that excessive pesticide residues “may cause blindness, cancer, diseases of liver and nervous system etc. The long term effects could result in reduction of live sperm and fertility, increase in cholesterol levels, high infant mortality rates and several metabolic and genetic disorders.”
And other studies do confirm that exposure to many chemicals, including pesticides, increases our risk of many chronic diseases. From cancer to Parkinson’s disease to type-2 diabetes, the list really is too long. In most countries, the exposure to pesticide has been ranked among the top three environmental cancer risks.
So, given this and other studies, it’s indeed wise to reduce the intake of chemicals and pesticides through our diet. The less we are exposed to it, the better it is. That’s something we know for sure from the research!
Enjoying a Pesticide-free Diet
Ok, this sub-heading is a bit misleading and a typical “internet sensationalism title” :-). Now, why do I say, it’s a misleading sub-heading? Because you may not be able to eat a diet that is 100% free from pesticides. Even organically grown foods have pesticides, but most of them are very low and the pesticides used in organic produce are less harmful.
Given these facts (and you know that I love facts as a health coach), let’s see how we can reduce exposure to pesticides whenever we choose to eat fruits and vegetables. Here are three particular ways to do reduce the pesticides residue in your food.
#1. Wash and peel all fruits and vegetables
Yep, it’s an easy, simple and effective way to reduce pesticides residue in your produce.
Here are two scientific reasons why they are so effective:
- A lot of the pesticides that are used on the produce are water-soluble and will come off with water. Research show just a minute washing of okra removed the pesticides residue to the extent that only traces were detected on washed okra. Another study showed that cold water washing removed 96% malathion – an insecticide residue from beans.
- Most of the pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables are retained on the peel. In fact, very little quantity of systemic pesticides may be absorbed into the flesh of these produces.
So, here is a two-step process to do it:
- Wash and scrub the produce (organic or conventional) for at least 30-40 seconds with running water. The longer you wash, the better. It’s not recommended to soak or dunk the produce in the water.
- In conventionally grown produce, peel off the skin in fruits and discard the outer leaves of leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce.
Just following this simple process helps you to reduce the level of pesticides residue tremendously.
Other than the wash and peel method, there are few more methods such as washing the fruit and vegetables with salt water solution, using vinegar, baking soda or even ready made sprays on the market to reduce the residue. However, the process I’ve shown you is the most scientific, cost-effective, time efficient and simple way out there.
On top of washing and peeling, cooking also helps to reduce the residue level. A study on cauliflower shows that washing alone reduced the levels of pesticide residue by approximately 25–80%, whereas the washing and cooking of cauliflower curds reduced the level of residues by 52–91%.
#2. Choose organically grown fresh foods
Organically grown, local, seasonal fresh foods are the best type of foods to eat for an optimal health. However, it may be not always possible or affordable for most people.
Environmental Working Group, a US based NGO has created a list of a dozen fruits and vegetables that are consistently found to have the highest pesticide residues. So, whenever possible, buy an organic variety of these produces:
Strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, celery, tomatoes, bell peppers and potatoes.
For an updated list and for more details, you can check the “Dirty Dozen” list here.
#3. Grow your own garden
This may be not an option for everyone, but if you have the space to do, it’s certainly a worthwhile goal to pursue. This is the sure-fire way to know that what you eat is almost 100% pesticide free.
There is an important part to gardening that no one talks about. That is, gardening also help you to establish a healthy relationship with the food you eat.
How to Reduce Pesticides Exposure in Other Foods
- Meat and poultry: Pesticides, chemicals and other toxins are mainly concentrated in the fat component. So, when eating meat or poultry of any sort, trim the fat off.
- Fish: Buy wild-caught fish. Avoid fish that are farmed in aquaculture. Studies show that accumulation of pesticides in farmed fish in aquaculture may be 10 to 10,000 times greater than their original concentrations in water.
- Dairy products: Pesticides residue may be found in greater concentration in milk products such as butter, cheese, and ghee than milk. So it’s better to look for organic products when buying dairy products.
Now here is an important message to keep in mind. The health benefits of healthy eating that include eating fruits, vegetables, fish, dairy and meat outweigh the possible presence of pesticides in these foods. So, even if you can’t afford the organic variety, make sure to eat a healthy diet and implement the simple strategies I’ve shown when preparing your food.
As a Nutrition and Exercise coach, I’m very particular about what I eat. And my case for eating pesticide free food isn’t just health related; it has an element of spirituality too. That’s because of the following Quranic Ayah:
“O you People! Eat of what is on earth, Halal and pure, and do not follow the footsteps of the Satan; Indeed for he is to you an open enemy” (2:168)
And by committing to eat healthy food that are also pesticide free, I’m not only eating halal, but also pure food that boosts my health. I follow the commandment of my Creator and hope to get rewarded for that.
So eating pesticide free food is certainly a triple win, a win for your health, a win for your spirituality and a win for the environment!