We should all be working towards making healthier food choices and including more organic fruits and vegetables in daily meals, but this isn’t always possible when it becomes cost-prohibitive. Non-organic produce often have high levels of pesticides, and we don’t know with certainty what the long-term detrimental effects are in ingesting pesticides. Recent studies by Swedish researchers show that pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and plant growth regulators can accumulate in the bodies of adults and children. Just a two-week break from pesticide-laden food sees the urinary levels of these chemicals fall to almost zero.
Hence, here are several reasons why you should wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly:
1. Protect your brain
There is one common type of insecticide that was created during World War II as a toxic nerve agent. Known as organophosphates, it is a neurotoxin that annihilates bugs by targeting the nervous system.
Unfortunately, the neurotoxic effect extends to mammals as well, and may actually be linked to degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.
2. Lower cancer risk
More worrying is the use of glyphosate, the most widely-used substance in crop-control agents and weed killers. Studies have found the presence of glyphosate in the air and rain in parts of the world.
In places like Iowa and Mississippi in the United States, the substance was found in over 60% of air and rain samples. In Spain, 40% of groundwater contained glyphosate.
Urine samples taken from people in 18 countries around Europe, by a German lab, found that the substance is quite often found in the human body, with 44% of the samples containing glyphosate.
Glyphosate has been found to cause cancer by the World Health Organization and it is not the only chemical linked to cancer. Pesticides like organochlorines, creosote and sulfallate are carcinogenic, while others such as DDT, chlordane and lindane encourage the growth of tumours.
3. To protect children’s health
Children are more vulnerable to toxins than grown-ups because their vital organs and systems are still developing.
In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a warning that exposure to insecticides in the early stages of a child’s life leads to a high risk of cancers, decreased cognitive function and behavioural problems.
In Mexico, preschool children who had frequent exposure to pesticides had less energy, as well as poorer eye-hand coordination, short-term memory and drawing skills, compared to children living in other regions who were not exposed to the same level of toxins.
Other studies have indicated that parental exposure to pesticides are linked with the occurrence of brain cancer in children.
Five ways to reduce pesticides on fruits and vegetables
Salt water solution – A salt solution is a very effective way to wash your produce, and may remove residues better than just water alone.
Add two teaspoons of salt into four cups of warm water and stir to dissolve. After the water has cooled, soak your fruit or vegetables in the solution for 30 to 60 minutes. Then rinse and scrub with cold water.
However, it’s best not to use salt water solution for delicate fruits like berries as they can absorb the salt water and damage the taste of your food. Just use a simple cold-water soak or gently scrub with your hands.
Lemon juice or vinegar wash – You can also use lemon juice or vinegar as an alternative to salt water. In a large bowl, fill with four parts water and one part vinegar or lemon juice.
Immerse your fruits and vegetables in the bowl for 30 to 60 minutes before rinsing several times and scrubbing thoroughly with cold water. In addition to removing pesticides, this method also helps keep your food fresh for longer and prevent spoilage.
Homemade spray – But if you are in a hurry to cook your meal, a homemade fruit and vegetable wash is a very good alternative to a salt or vinegar soak. Mix one tablespoon of lemon juice, two tablespoons of white vinegar and one cup of water in a spray bottle, preferably a glass one. Shake vigorously before spraying liberally onto your produce. Use your hands or a scrub brush and scrub for at least 30 seconds, and then rinse thoroughly in cold water.
Rinse and scrub with running water – It’s actually quite easy to reduce a significant amount of residual pesticides on your fruit and vegetables without any kind of special wash. According to the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, India, you can remove about two-thirds of pesticides on most of your fresh produce just by washing and scrubbing with cold running water alone. Fruits like grapes, apples, guava, plums, mangoes, peaches and pears, and vegetables like spinach, kale, tomatoes and okra need to be rinsed at least two or three times for best results. Experiments conducted at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in the US found that water temperature and cleaning products were not the main solution to pesticide removal, but friction was.
Wash thoroughly with a scrub brush meant specially for your produce, and really get into all the grooves and crevices on the fruit and vegetables, where pesticides can often seep. Even if you do not have a scrubbing brush, make sure to rub the produce back and forth with your hands under running water for at least 30 seconds.
Peeling and trimming – Apart from scrubbing and washing, peeling and trimming is quite a safe and effective way for getting rid of the chemical residue on fruits and vegetables that have skin.
The Centre for Science and Environment has concluded that systemic and contact pesticides on the outside of your fresh food should be removed by peeling. For vegetables like lettuce, cabbage, celery and other leafy vegetables, slice the tops and outer sections off to remove residues and bacteria that may have settled there. For best effect, give it a final rinse before consuming.
Washing your vegetables and fruit is a great lifestyle habit to practice. Start today and your body will thank you for making the effort towards a pesticide-free life.
Star Newspper. May 7, 2017
By Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar