ORGANIC SUPERFOODS TO LOOK FOR
“Superfoods” are foods that are low in calories and high in nutrients like antioxidants, helping us meet healthy nutrition requirements and stave off a range of health problems from cancer to poor eyesight (according to livestrong.com). Trouble is, many “super” foods that you buy in the “super” market are super-saturated with pesticides from large-scale industrial agriculture.
Pesticides and Your Vegetables
Each year, the research and advocacy organization known as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes lists of the most pesticide-contaminated vegetables (The Dirty Dozen) and the least contaminated (Clean Fifteen). The lists act as a guideline for shoppers, to help them decide when to spend the extra money on organic vegetables explicitly grown without pesticides, and when to risk buying agribusiness crops.
When to Go Organic
We all want to get the most “bang for our buck” – the greatest health benefits and the most protection from untested chemicals. Sometimes it makes sense to save a dime; sometimes it's worth the extra cost to buy organic. Here are three of the top superfoods that also top the EWG's “Dirty Dozen” list. You want these in your diet – but buy the organic version.
- Bell Peppers. Red, green, and yellow bell peppers are top sources of antioxidants that can help alleviate the inflammation that causes asthma symptoms and arthritis swelling, as well as reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer… even cataracts. One pepper packs twice the vitamin C of an orange, according to Joy Bauer. They also contain vitamin B6, folic acid, and fiber, which can reduce the chances of stroke or heart attack. They're also the most contaminated vegetable on the EWG's 2012 Dirty Dozen list, testing positive for as many as 15 separate pesticides on one sample. That one bell pepper on your salad could also be feeding 15 different kinds of chemicals. Overall, 88 different kinds of pesticides were found on bell peppers.
- Apples. Apples, too, are rich in antioxidants and are a low glycemic index food. One apple contains a quarter of the daily vitamin C requirement, according to the UK's Daily Mail. They're also high in pectin, a soluble fiber that helps aid digestion and can lower blood cholesterol. As a low glycemic index food, they may even help control blood sugar levels in diabetics and assist in weight control. But they're also one of the most contaminated fruits on the Dirty Dozen – 98 percent of conventionally grown apples tested positive for pesticides.
- Nectarines. New research, reported in Science Daily to be presented this coming August at the American Chemical Society meeting in Philadelphia, found stone fruits like plums and nectarines may be effective at counteracting metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a disorder in which interactions between obesity and inflammation in the body lead to serious health problems, so the discovery of nectarines' specific abilities could make a real difference. “The average imported nectarine had had much higher total weight of pesticides than any other food crop,” according to the EWG's “ Highlights of this year's Dirty Dozen.”
According to the EWG website, the Environmental Working Group examines USDA and FDA pesticide testing data to arrive at their lists of most and least contaminated foods. The USDA and the FDA legally allow these pesticides and consider the resulting concentrations safe for consumption; the EWG and other advocacy groups disagree. According to the EWG, government test results found 68 percent of food samples still contained pesticide residues even after being washed and peeled – so we are consuming these pesticides if we eat foods that aren't organically grown. It's up to you to decide whether the health risk is reasonable.
A Word of Warning
It's important to recognize that organic foods aren't pristine. Organic regulations aren't cut and dried. Many types of organic foods can still be treated with certain pesticides or antibiotics when the risk of losing a crop outweighs the chance of survival. And other chemicals might be lurking in your organic veggies, including BPA and phthalates, according to Mother Jones. The organic label is a good place to start, but working to change the way your foods are grown is better still.