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Organic Eating: Ever Heard of the Dirty Dozen?

Organic Eating: Ever Heard of the Dirty Dozen?

Whatever your preferred eating habits may be, you’d probably prefer to steer clear of toxic pesticides. This is something that applies to anyone with a vested interest in their health and wellbeing, vegetarian or otherwise. 

Still, it could be argued that when you make the switch to a plant-based diet, the importance of going organic is even greater. Given how you will inevitably be eating more fruits and veggies than ever before, it makes sense to ensure they’re safe. 

To underestimate just how dangerous toxic pesticides can be is to put yourself in harm’s way. Even today, any number of seriously dangerous chemicals are still in widespread use on farms across the UK and elsewhere. The situation is even worse in the United States, where plenty of pesticides that are now illegal in Europe are used on millions of tons of crops each year.

Even in relatively modest quantities, chemical pesticides can have a devastating effect on human health. In which case, anything you can do to reduce your intake of pesticides is probably something you should be doing.

How Do You Eat Fewer Pesticides?

The easiest and most obvious way to cut pesticides out of your diet is to completely avoid anything that is not organic. In order for something to qualify as organic, it needs to be cultivated and produced without anything synthetic making its way into the mix.

In the United Kingdom in particular, food standards with regard to organic certification are pretty strict. This means that when something claims to be certified organic, it will most certainly is - and is therefore unlikely to contain any traces of pesticides whatsoever.

If going 100% organic is not an option for any reason, there are still things you can do to reduce your consumption of pesticides. Completely avoiding pesticide consumption with a non-organic diet is practically impossible, but steps can be taken to steer things in the right direction.

One example of which is to be mindful of the kinds of fruits and vegetables that are more likely to contain elevated concentrations of pesticides than others.  Often referred to as the ‘Dirty Dozen’, there’s a list of everyday staples that almost always contain traces of pesticides, when put to the test in laboratory conditions.

An Overview of the Dirty Dozen

Based on data collected and published by The Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in 2018 and 2019, analysis painted a pretty clear picture of which fruits and vegetables are most likely to contain traces of pesticides than others.

In terms of the percentage of samples that went under the microscope and tested positive for multiple pesticide residues, the following fruits and vegetables were the frontrunners by a significant margin:

  • Grapefruit - 99% of samples tested
  • Mandarins, clementines and satsumas - 96% of samples tested
  • Strawberries - 89% of samples tested
  • Pre-packaged salad leaves - 81% of samples tested
  • Grapes - 78% of samples tested
  • Lemons - 75% of samples tested
  • Peaches - 67% of samples tested
  • Pears - 66% of samples tested
  • Spinach - 57% of samples tested
  • Chilli peppers - 57% of samples tested
  • Apples - 52% of samples tested
  • Blackberries and blueberries - 51% of samples tested

It’s worth reemphasising the important point at this juncture that these tests were carried out exclusively on conventional produce. Organic fruits and vegetables were not included in the study, due to the fact that all organic produce should technically exclude all traces of pesticides entirely.

Nevertheless, it clearly illustrates the extent of the issue and the prevalence of toxic chemicals in conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Despite the fact that the health and safety implications of these toxic compounds are well-documented, they are still in widespread use across the UK and Europe.

Worse still, there’s a growing black market for prohibited pesticides and agricultural chemicals, which continue to make their way into the food chain in certain parts of the country.

Can Non-Organic Food Be Safe?

The short answer is yes, as it depends entirely on the producer. Contrary to popular belief, just because something is grown using non-organic cultivation methods does not mean it is inherently dangerous. There’s a long and varied list of synthetic compounds used in the cultivation of non-organic fruits and vegetables - some of which are significantly more hazardous than others.

Of course, it’s better to keep synthetic compounds out of your body entirely, wherever possible. But if you’re unsure as to the potential pesticide content of the fruits and vegetables you buy, there are a few things you can do to reduce or eliminate them entirely.

Examples of which include the following:

  • Remove the skin.  The quickest and easiest way to get most of the pesticides out of a piece of fruit or a vegetable is to get rid of the skin.  Even if you would normally enjoy the skin (and it’s often where much of the nutritional value in fruits and vegetables is concentrated), removing it will ensure anything it has absorbed along the way is also removed.
  • Wash properly. If peeling or removing the outer layer isn’t an option for any reason, giving your fruits and vegetables a good scrub can also help.  Rather than using water straight from the tap, you can try diluting a small amount of vinegar or sodium bicarbonate to create a more effective cleaning solutions. There are plenty of specialist veggie cloths and scrubbers available that are said to provide a better clean, but they’re really not much different from a standard brush or cloth.
  • Blanch or Cook.  Blanching fruits and vegetables - i.e. dropping them in boiling water for a brief period of time before cooling them in iced water - has been shown to reduce pesticide concentrations by up to 50%.  Taking things a step further, fully cooking fruits or vegetables can completely eliminate all detectable traces of pesticides. 

The Benefits of Going Organic

Where possible, it’s always easier to avoid the problem than to deal with its consequences. Precisely why going organic is by far the easiest and most effective way to avoid any of the potential risks associated with pesticides.

While it may be true to say that the highest-quality organic produce is more expensive than low-end conventional produce, what you get in return for your money is so much more. The health benefits and the feel good factor of organic eating more than justify the additional costs, which in most instances are negligible any way.

Aside from the whole pesticide removal aspect, here are another 5 good reasons to consider going organic:

1. You know exactly what goes in

First of all, pesticides are not the only potentially dodgy additives that make their way into non-organic fruit and veggies. There are also things like synthetic fertilisers and genetically modified organisms to factor in. Some of which are more or less harmful than others, but in all instances are best replaced with 100% organic farming practices where possible.

2. It’s way better for the environment

Eliminating synthetic compounds and toxic chemicals from the cultivation of crops also has a major impact on the surrounding environment. When chemical pesticides and synthetic compounds are used, they can have a devastating effect on the nearby habitat and even find their way into streams, lakes and reservoirs.  None of which bodes well for the general health and wellbeing of the population.

3. Organic food supports smaller businesses

Admittedly, this only applies when products are purchased from the smaller growers and producers in business. Nevertheless, going organic and setting your sights on these smaller and often independent businesses is a great way of supporting the ‘little guys’. Many of which often struggle in the face of ferocious competition from the biggest mass-producers.

4. It tastes great!

A subject of longstanding debate it may be, but advocates of organic farming will tell you without hesitation that the flavour is beyond compare. Which stands to reason, given how fruits and vegetables that are painstakingly cultivated using 100% natural methods are exactly as nature intended them to be. It’s easy to force fruits and vegetables to grow bigger and faster for financial gain, by this often does nothing for their flavour - or their nutrient content.

5.  It’s not as expensive as you think

Last but not least, going organic does not have to be prohibitively expensive.  For one thing, there’s nothing to say going at least partly organic isn’t a good idea - it is. Even if you’d prefer not to go the whole hog, increasing your intake of organic fruits and vegetables can only work in your favour. Then even if you do decide to cut out non-organic produce altogether, it need not be nearly as expensive as you think. You simply need to go with the seasons, shop for what’s in abundance at the time and make every possible effort to ensure nothing goes to waste!


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