TORONTO — Let’s be honest: organic food can be pricey. But does it really make that much of a difference?
Experts say going organic can help limit your pesticide exposure since organic food is said to be lower in pesticides, free of genetically modified organisms, additives, and irradiation. If you’re trying to stretch your dollar at the grocery store, though, there are certain fruits and vegetables that might be better than others to buy organic. They’re the ones believed to be the most contaminated by pesticides, also known as the “Dirty Dozen.”
The annual list is put together by the Environmental Working Group, a U.S.-based health research and advocacy organization. For the fifth year in a row, apples have been the biggest offender when it comes to pesticide residue. According to analysts, that’s because of chemicals applied to the crop before and after harvest to preserve them longer.
There’s also the “Clean Fifteen.” The produce on that list is the least likely to hold pesticide residue, according to EWG. The “cleanest” fruit on the list? Avocados. Only one per cent of them showed any detectable pesticides.
Registered dietitians believe the lists can be a handy tool for consumers.
“If you can’t afford organic all the time, you can buy fruits and vegetables off that list and not worry as much about your pesticide exposure,” said Edmonton-based registered dietitian Lalitha Taylor.
When it comes to nutritional content, though, Taylor and other dietitians stress that there’s no good research to support that organic food is better than conventional (non-organic) produce.
A 2012 study from Stanford found organic foods were no higher in vitamins or minerals, except phosphorus. While they did have a 30 per cent lower risk of pesticide contamination, the pesticide levels of all foods tested were within allowable limits.
“So even if you are eating non-organic versus organic, you’re safe,” Taylor assured.
The bottom line for health experts:
“We’re not eating enough fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are healthy, period. So conventional or organic, the more you get the better,” said Mardell.
A couple other tips to reduce your pesticide exposure: Always make sure to wash your produce well.
And when it comes to meat and fish, trim the visible fat, Taylor suggested, as pesticides can be stored in animal fat.
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Health Canada said the federal government ensures food produced by Canadian farmers or imported into the country respects the established pesticide residue limits.
If those limits are exceeded, Health Canada can take action by either “removing the food from stores, seizing food stocks, rejecting imports and/or prosecuting offenders.”
With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News
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