Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen

If you look at labels carefully and aim to buy organic food, you can feel healthy and wise.  Toby’s, the Palace Market, the Farmer’s Market (coming soon!). the Bolinas People’s Store, the Murch and Weber Farm Stands will provide you with wonderful choices of organic produce.  Whole Food, The Good Earth, Trader Joe's are other good options You can send this column to your friends who live on fast food.  But, if you eat out on occasion, pay attention. 

The Dirty Dozen  
Every year the Environmental Working Group analyzes pesticide residues on produce and publishes a guide for shoppers and eaters.  Here is their 2015 guide to fruits and vegetables containing containing the heaviest  pesticide residues: They have named these items the Dirty Dozen.  Try to find organic versions of these foods, or grow them yourself if possible. 
Apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, snap peas (imported), potatoes.

The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other item.  A single grape sample and a sweet bell pepper sample contained 15 pesticides.  Single samples of cherry tomatoes, nectarines, peaches, imported snap peas and strawberries contained 13 different pesticides.  Additionally, hot peppers, kale and collard greens were frequently found to be contaminated with pesticides. 

 The Clean Fifteen
 Avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, sweet peas (frozen), onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwi, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower, sweet potatoes

Avocados were the cleanest: only 1% of avocado samples showed any detectable pesticides.  89% of pineapples, 82% of kiwis, 80% of papayas, 88% of mangos and 61% of cantaloupes had no residues.  When you think about your food budget, you can buy non-organic forms of the ‘clean fifteen’ with less concern.  However, all produce should be washed with tap water before eating; adding dilute vinegar will also help to remove bacteria and other germs.

Should You Worry about Pesticides
According to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, 9 of the 12 most dangerous and persistent chemicals are pesticides.  Reviews have found that most studies on non-Hodgkin lymphoma and leukemia showed positive associations with pesticide exposure.  Strong evidence also exists for an association between pesticide exposure and neurological problems, birth defects, fetal death and developmental disorders of the nervous system.  Pesticide exposure has been linked to melanoma in farm workers.  Studies on links to other diseases are ongoing.  Pesticide exposure to farm workers who apply these chemicals is especially strong. 

I advise readers to keep a list of the dirty dozen and clean fifteen in their wallet, so that they can ask questions and/or be wary when eating at a restaurant or a party.  We should count our blessings to live in West Marin, where organic food is so easy to obtain, and – if you choose wisely – affordable.  Finally – check out the website of the Environmental Working Group, and make a donation if you are so inclined. They do a great job in keeping us informed. 

Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH  

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