Like Strawberries with Your Pesticides?

Dear Health Conscious Reader,

Do you wonder if buying organic is worth the extra money?

Well… it depends on what you’re buying.

The definition of “organic” has been degraded to the point where sometimes it doesn’t mean anything. Some “organic beef” can be just as bad as the estrogen-drenched, grain-fed junk you see going for 99 cents a pound.

With produce it can be just as tricky. Some are downright poisonous. Others aren’t as bad. I have a rule of thumb I give my patients. You’ll find a list below.

First, there are a few things you should know. The food industry put poisons in your food and they stay there until you eat them. The FDA allows and even defends this practice.

During one test, there were 30 different pesticides on strawberries sold for consumption. Another test revealed 10 different pesticides on a single commercial sample of spinach.1

Some interfere with nutrients in your food. Many have unpredictable effects that we know very little about. The ones that I have become most concerned about are the ones that wreak havoc on your hormones.

The pesticide endosulfan is an important example. It turns up in your food more often than any other chemical on the market.2 Despite evidence that this chemical turns on estrogen receptors, the FDA insists it’s safe. Yet how could anyone know what decades of consuming this and other estrogen mimics will do?

When these chemicals get into your blood, your body mistakes them for real hormones. For men, this means the gradual dissolution of masculine characteristics and development of feminine features and abnormal growth of the prostate. In women, it means a rise in breast and ovarian cancers and a dramatic worsening of symptoms of menopause.

Contrary to what I’ve seen claimed, you can avoid most of these chemicals if you buy organic. While it may not be economically practical for you to buy organic produce across the board, it may make sense to buy organic for the 10 worst fruits and vegetables.

So here’s how the best and the worst stack up:3

10 Worst Offenders: Buy Organic 10 Least Contaminated: Okay to Buy Conventional
  • Raspberries
  • Asparagus
  • Strawberries
  • Avocados
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Bell Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Celery
  • Cauliflower
  • Cherries
  • Kiwi
  • Grapes
  • Mangos
  • Nectarines
  • Onions
  • Peaches
  • Papaya
  • Potatoes
  • Pineapple

Like most folks, you may wash your fruits and vegetables to get rid of the dirt, bugs, wax and pesticides. It may help, but many of today’s pesticides are designed to bind to the surface and don’t easily wash off with water alone.

Surprisingly, the food checked by the government was washed and prepared for normal consumption before it was tested. So even if you rinse with water, you’re still getting chemical contamination. To protect you and your family, take these additional steps:

  • Peel your fruits and vegetables and remove outer leaves on cabbage, lettuce, garlic and onions.
  • For the produce you don’t peel, soak them in a mixture of vinegar and water (equal parts). After 10 or 15 minutes, rinse them with cold water.
  • Alternatively, soak your produce in a weak mixture of dishwashing liquid. Then rinse well with cold water.
  • If you don’t have time to soak, you can fill a spray bottle with one cup of water, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Spray on, let sit and rinse with cold water.
  • Avoid commercial produce that’s bruised. They’re more likely to have concentrations of pesticides deep within the fruit.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

  1. Environmental Working Group. Report Card: Pesticides in Produce.
  2. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2002. Reregistration eligibility decision for vinclozalin. Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) EPA 738-R-02-013.
  3. Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides and Produce. Press Release. Oct 21, 2003.