As a nutrition editor, I know the value of eating loads of fruits and vegetables. I prefer to buy local when I can, but I’ve never been a purist about eating only organic. Now that I’m a mom, there are some foods I feel more comfortable about buying organic. Apples are one of these foods. Apples still rank high on the nonprofit Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues. Long-term exposure to pesticides has been associated with cancer, infertility and neurologic conditions, such as Parkinson’s.
I know that pesticides are far more dangerous to children (whose bodies are smaller and whose nervous systems are still developing) than to adults, and for that reason I prefer that my toddler eat organic apples. Now, it’s fall and I’m lucky that my family is able to visit a local orchard that grows organically to pick our own apples. In the off-season, I tend to buy organic applesauce for my son—but I often eat conventional apples myself (and certainly I eat lots of other conventionally grown foods). Enjoy apples in these 20 sweet and savory apple recipes.
I asked David Wallinga, M.D., director of food and health for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, for some tips on protecting yourself from pesticides (besides buying certified organic, a USDA certification that restricts all chemical pesticides). Here’s what he told me:
Eat plenty of antioxidant-rich foods. Scientists believe that some pesticides wreak their damage by operating as free radicals, compounds that damage tissues in ways that can lead to the development of cancer and other diseases. Minimizing your exposure to pesticides will reduce this free-radical damage, says Wallinga, but so will consuming more antioxidants, which mop up free radicals. Get more into your diet with these antioxidant-rich recipes. Apples—whether they’re organic or conventional—are full of antioxidants, specifically flavonols, anthocyanins and vitamin C. So are broccoli, beans, berries, whole grains, olive oil—the list goes on and on. Eating a variety of healthy foods protects you in many ways, including offering pesticide protection.
Chat with local growers about their pest-management practices. “Organic certification can be expensive and he may be growing without pesticides but [not marketing as organic] because he doesn’t want to have to raise his prices,” says Wallinga.
Wash your fruit. Research shows that rinsing fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water removes some pesticides. No need for a fancy vegetable-and-fruit wash (or even a mild soap): scientists at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven have shown that plain water is just as effective.
Consider removing the peel. Many of the pesticides stay in the peel, so discarding the skin can reduce residues significantly—by up to 98 percent, according to a 2008 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry study. But ditch the peel and you lose out on half the fiber and many of the antioxidants. “If your choice is to peel off the thing that carries many of the nutrients or feel freaked out that you’re consuming pesticide residues,” says Wallinga, “you may have the wrong apple in front of you.”
What, if anything, do you buy organic? Tell us what you think below.