Avoiding Pesticides in Food

 Strawberries soaking in homemade produce wash to reduce pesticide residue.

There is growing concern amongst scientists and food researchers over the adverse effects pesticides and other chemicals are having on our health. We are now being advised to minimize our consumption of pesticides, as longterm studies are showing links to ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and many other problems. Children are especially vulnerable during foetal development and early childhood.  Unfortunately, in Australia we are lagging behind when it comes to chemical regulation.  Buying organic is the obvious solution… but what if you can’t always afford it, or it’s not always available? Here’s some ideas to help you reduce the pesticides in your diet – even on a budget!

– Know which fruits and veges are worst affected by pesticides, and try to only buy them organic. Each year, The Environmental Working Group publishes a list of the fruits and veges most affected by pesticides, and those least affected. It’s helpful to know this, especially if you’re shopping on a budget, so you can pick and choose what you buy organic and what you don’t. Print this list out and take it with you when you go shopping, or download the app for your phone. (EWG’s 2013 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides here – available as smartphone app, iPad app, or PDF file.)  This year they’re telling us that the fruit and veges that are the worst for pesticides are: Apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, capsicum, nectarines, cucumbers, and potatoes (top 10).  The least affected are: asparagus, avocado, cabbage, cantalope, corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwifruit, mangoes, mushrooms, onions, papayas, pineapples, sweet peas, and sweet potatoes.

 [Note: The Environmental Working Group is from the USA – it may not be exactly the same in Australia. Also, some farmers may use natural methods but just not be certified organic. Talk to your local growers and market stall holders, and find out what methods they use. Where I live, the macadamias are quite naturally grown with barely any pesticides, and what they use is mostly natural. But I’ve heard that other macadamia growers use a lot of chemicals. I actually went to the local farm and saw how they did things for myself, and I’m happy to buy their macadamias, even if they’re not certified organic. Check things out for yourself, this is just a rough guide to get you started.]

– Buy your organic fruit and veges bulk, dividing the order with friends – you’ll save a lot. Try local growers and co-ops, as they will be the freshest. (Check out my post on buying in bulk for tips.)

– Start a vege garden. It doesn’t have to be big – lettuce, herbs, cherry tomatoes, capsicums, carrots, strawberries and silverbeet can all be grown in small gardens, or you can plant them in pots or boxes. (Strawberries, capsicum and spinach/silverbeet are amongst the worst offenders for pesticides when grown commercially.) Get a friend to grow some veges, and you grow others, and you can share your produce.

– Sprouts are easy to grow at home, and full of vitamins and nutrients. This may be the simplest way to begin cutting down on pesticides for your family.

– Eat a varied diet to reduce your intake of pesticides that may be consistently found on some fruits and veges.

– Beware of imported produce – the country of origin may not have as strict health regulations as we have in Australia, and may have a much higher percentage of pesticides. I never buy US cherries, for example, as I’ve read that they are one of the worst for pesticides!

– Wash your produce well, and peel off thick skins if they’re in the high risk list. Rinsing (and soaking) produce really well will reduce pesticides and kill bacteria found on the skins of fruit and veges. You can buy vege washes made of natural ingredients which are supposed to remove wax and pesticide residues, but you can also make your own very cheaply. The easiest method I have found is:

* Fill your sink with cold water.
* Add four tablespoons of salt and the juice of half a fresh lemon.
* Soak fruits and vegetables for five to ten minutes (leafy greens two to three mins, berries one to two mins)
* Rinse well.

For thick-skinned produce and apples, scrub with a vegetable brush after soaking.
(The soaking helps to break down the wax layer, as well as kill bacteria and rinse off pesticides.)

– Discard the outer layers of leafy green veges like lettuce and cabbage – this will greatly reduce the amount of pesticides on the produce.

One more tip: Even organic and home-grown fruits and veges have bacteria on the outside of them. They pick up micro-organisms from the soil, people’s dirty hands, etc, and these can make you sick. Make sure you wash your hands AND the produce really well before eating or cutting, even if they have thick skins (like oranges or melons) as the bacteria will be transferred to your hands or knife, and then onto the inside of the fruit or vegetable. If you’re eating on the run, have a spray bottle filled with filtered water that you can spray onto apples and other fruit to clean them before eating.

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