Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What to eat if you can't buy organic

I was on Fox-25 News in Boston this morning, talking about the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen Plus" and "Clean Fifteen" lists and offering suggestions about how to avoid pesticides if you can't afford to buy all organic produce. Here's the clip:

Boston News, Weather, Sports | FOX 25 | MyFoxBoston

It's worth noting that, if you draw a line down the center of the tablescape (sweet potatoes, watermelon, and asparagus) those things plus everything to the left of them are perfectly fine to buy conventionally -- that is, the pesticide levels on them are so low that it doesn't make much of a difference whether you eat "regular" versions or organic ones. Everything to the right, though? If you have money to spend on organic produce, those are the things you want to buy. A good rule of thumb is that if the produce has a think skin that you can eat -- so, peaches, apples, grapes, berries, lettuce and leafy greens, for example -- you should try to buy organic.

I wrote about the EWG's lists on Yahoo! Shine recently: "When Buying Organic Does (and Doesn't) Make Sense." The "Dirty Dozen Plus" and "Clean Fifteen" lists are pretty straight-forward, but bear in mind that the benefits of eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables far outweigh the risks posed by FDA-approved pesticides -- the EWG found traces of them on their produce samples, not massive amounts. And while some fruits and veggies absorb chemicals or grew from seeds soaked in pesticides, most had pesticide residue only on the surface; a simple wash in cold running water (without soap or bleach) is enough to remove most of it.

In the Fox-25 clip, I point out that locally grown produce is less likely to have lots of pesticides, but there wasn't time to explain the idea fully. Just because something is local does not mean that it was grown organically, but if the produce doesn't have to travel a long distance to the store (and look perfect once it gets there), chances are it will require fewer chemicals to keep it fresh and pest-free. Also: There are plenty of farmers who are not certified organic but who use only a minimum of chemicals and pesticides on their produce. The bottom line? If you're at your local farmer's market, ask whether the food was grown organically or when the last time it was treated. Still feeling worried? Grow your own (some of the most-contaminated produce, like green beans and lettuce, are pretty easy to grow in a garden or even in pots on a balcony).

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