The Dirty Dozen: Enjoying Summer Fruits Safely
One of the many lovely things about summer is the abundance of delicious fresh fruits and vegetables. After all, what’s better than a bowl of fresh strawberries and whipped cream on the dessert table, or some corn on the cob at a cookout? And then there are those charming roadside farm stands and fun pick-your-own fruit farms…The list goes on!
Unfortunately, fresh produce can give us more than just vitamins and minerals. Fertilizers and pesticides are used in the growing process, even with organic fruits and vegetables. Pesticides are a big concern for gut health and can show up in unexpected places. But don’t worry— by arming yourself with knowledge and taking a few simple steps, you can reduce your exposure while still enjoying summer’s delicious bounty (and keeping your gut happy!)
Why does it matter?
First off, why should you worry about pesticides in our produce? After all, they can’t be too harmful if farmers are allowed to use them on our food, right? Not so fast! Pesticides are, by their very nature, designed to kill off things that threaten the growth of the crop, things like insects, bacteria, and fungi. This means they can also destroy the healthy, beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms present in your gut, potentially leading to immune system disorders and other chronic health issues.
Remember, gut health is key to your overall health and well-being, so reducing your exposure to pesticides is super important! Read on to learn where pesticides lurk and how to avoid them.
The Dirty Dozen
Knowing which produce has the most pesticides is the first step in helping you avoid them. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a super informative yearly report ranking produce with the highest amount of pesticide residue. Here, in descending order, we have shared the top twelve, or, as EWG calls them, the “dirty dozen”:
- Sweet bell peppers
OK, OK, we know what you’re thinking: “But those are some of my favorite fruits and veggies! Aren’t I supposed to eat fruits and veggies?” Don’t worry — you can still eat fruits and veggies! Just by following these basic guidelines, you can greatly reduce your exposure to harmful pesticide residue:
- Buy organic: Whenever possible, go for USDA certified organically grown produce. Be aware that “organic” doesn’t necessarily mean “pesticide-free,” but it does mean there are fewer synthetic pesticides used, and that the whole farming process is more closely monitored.
- Keep it clean: Always, always, always rinse all your fruits and vegetables before eating! This includes items that are labelled “pre-washed.” At the very least, gently rub the produce under cold running water. Even if you’re going to peel it or are not going to eat the rind, it’s still important to give it a good wash first to prevent the transfer of chemicals and bacteria. Tougher items like potatoes or melons can even be scrubbed with a clean brush.
- The beauty of baking soda: If you want to go the extra mile, research has shown that baking soda is hugely helpful in getting pesticide residue off of your tasty fruits and veggies. Just submerge them in a solution of one teaspoon of baking soda and two cups of water, let them soak for a minimum of two minutes, and give them a final rinse before eating. This simple method has shown to be even more effective (and much less expensive) than those “produce wash” solutions you see for sale at the grocery store.
Going fruit picking at an apple orchard or berry farm during the summer months is a wholesome family activity, but it’s also a place where caution about washing produce is often thrown to the wind. After all, when you’re standing in the sunshine on a family-run farm, picking delicious fruits right off the tree or vine, spending quality time with the kids, it’s easy to confuse “quaint and charming” with “pesticide-free.” But nearly all pick-your-own farms, even those certified as “organic,” use some kind of pesticide.
This means that pulling a blueberry off the bush and popping it right in your mouth isn’t as safe as you may think. The urge to take a bite is pretty overwhelming (especially if you’re five years old) and waiting to get home and wash the produce first is an exercise in self-control. To head this problem off, consider bringing a small container filled with clean water. Just put a few of your freshly picked fruits in the container, gently shake it to agitate the water, and then drain the water off. This helps to get some of the surface pesticides off (along with dirt and bugs!) and can hold you over until you get home to give everything a good wash.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask what kinds of chemicals or treatments are used on the crops you’ll soon be picking. You can even call ahead to make inquiries, which can help you choose which farm you decide to go to. PickYourOwn.org has a great database of farms you can search and even designates farms that use minimal chemicals and pesticides.
To sum it up…
So there you have it: fruits and vegetables are nutritious and essential in maintaining good gut health, but be aware that they also carry potentially harmful pesticides. Just by following the simple guidelines we mentioned, you can greatly reduce your exposure to pesticide residue and help keep your microbiome in tip-top condition!