It’s summertime and that hopefully that means there are lots of fruits and veggies on your plate. With more produce could come worries about pesticides, especially if you have kids.
Should You Worry?
Probably. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American has 29 different pesticides in their body! One main point of concern is that pesticides are more risky for kids and pregnant women. Pound per pound, kids eat and drink more that adults relative to their body weight. A child’s metabolism is different from adults, so toxins can stay in their bodies longer, and do more damage.
Young children and especially infants have brains and other organs that are still developing and maturing. Pesticides have been shown to affect the nervous system. In fact there has been a “silent pandemic” of neurodevelopmental problems affecting children around the world—from learning disabilities to ADHD and autism. Some studies point to pesticide exposure—especially during pregnancy and early childhood because it can permanently affect brain development. Read the report A Generation in Jeopardy. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, research links early life exposure to pesticies and pediatric cancer, decreased cognitive function and behavioral problems.
Eating a variety of food is one way to limit too much of one specific pesticide. But, you know kids don’t always eat the variety of foods we’d like them to!
So the big question is—should you go all organic? If you have an unlimited or very generous food budget, absolutely! But most of us don’t, so we need to pick and choose which foods to buy organic. Luckily, Walmart, Sam’s Club and Costco have gotten on the organic bandwagon, making it much more affordable to eat “green”.
Strawberries: Easy to eat and a kid summer fave, they are also #1 on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen. If you can’t buy organic, choose imported blueberries or raspberries, fruits with similar nutrients, which are farther down the list of pesticide residues.
Apples: Most kids love apples—they’re crispy, juicy and sweet. When my kids were growing up, they definitely ate an apple a day. But apples are #4 on the Dirty Dozen, so if your kid is an apple eater, definitely get organic, which can be found in large bags at Sam’s Club. Can’t get organic? Consider buying apples from New Zealand, which tend to have lower pesticide levels that from the US. On the other hand, applesauce from the Canada and US rank low on the pesticide scale.
Peaches: Who can resist a juicy peach at the height of summer? Perhaps you should if you don’t buy organic—peaches are ranked at #5 on the Dirty Dozen list and Consumer Reports graded the pesticide content of fresh peaches from the US and Chile to be high. But there’s good news—canned peaches are ranked very low—and that includes peaches grown in the US, South African and Greece.
Green beans: This mild green veggie goes with any meal and is often a family favorite. US-grown green beans fall at #21 on the Dirty Dozen list. But in 2015, Consumer Reports ranked US grown green beans as “very high” on the pesticide scale and recommended organic. Because the numbers change from year to year, it’s best to go organic.
Potatoes: The top veggie consumed in the US by kids at about 45 pounds per year, it’s probably one of your kid’s favorite veggies too. It falls at #12 on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen List. Some starchy veggie alternatives include sweet potato, which falls at #35 on the list , corn, which is actually #1 on the Clean 15 list. Frozen sweet peas are also on the Clean 15 list, ranking at #6.
What about Organic Milk?
The one thing that most kids have (or should have) on a daily basis is two to three servings of dairy foods. But kids do tend to drink a lot of milk and that fact alone could make it worth the splurge. But milk from cows who eat “green” is pricey —a half-gallon costs way more than a gallon of gas.
What the difference between Organic and Regular Milk? Organic milk is from cows that:
- Are given feed grown without pesticides or commercial fertilizers
- Are given access to a pasture
- Are not treated with supplemental hormones
- Have not been given antibiotics
Nutritionally, organic and regular milk are almost identical, having similar amounts of protein, carbs and fat. Where they differ is the type of fat. Several studies have shown that organic milk has larger amounts of omega-3 fats and less omega-6 fats compared to conventional milk. In general, Americans get too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 fats. This type of fat ratio is thought to cause inflammation in the body. So getting more omega-3 fats from milk is definitely a good thing! The difference in fats is more pronounced in the summer, when cows have access to fresh grass.
There are other ways to reduce the pesticides on your plate.
- Wash your produce well under running water for one minute. This is just as effective as using a produce wash and reduces pesticide residue as well as dirt and bacteria.
- Don’t bother peeling. Many pesticides are taken up through a plant’s root system so peeling will only reduce your fiber and nutrient intake.
- Grow your own. No matter where you live, it’s possible to grow something. Even here in the dessert southwest, we grow apricots, figs, tomatoes, squash, spinach, melon and lettuce.
Recently there has been a large controversy between organic vs conventional. Both milks are very similar nutritionally but not exactly the same. The difference is that because organically raised cows have access to grazing and fresh grass, their milk has more omega-3 fat and less omega-6 fats, (especially in the summer) according to this study. Another difference is that organic milk comes from cows who have not been given hormones or antibiotics. While conventionally raised cows who are given antibiotics are pulled away from milking until all clear, antibiotic residues could show up in conventional milk. Proponents of organic milk feel that it can make a difference to antibiotic resistance in humans. (There are more pounds of antibiotics sold in the US for food producing animals than people.)
Are All Organic Brands the Same?
Unfortunately, your favorite organic brand may not actually be living up to organic standards, according to The Cornucopia Institute, a public interest group supporting sustainable and organic agriculture. They ranked some of the major players in the organic industry to be “ethically deficient” because they wouldn’t allow surveyors to check on the cow. The Washington Post recently reported that one of the largest dairy producers, Auroora Organic Dairy, which supplies milk to Walmart, Costco and Albertson’s organic brands, appeared to fall short of organic grazing standards. Other national brands were considered excellent: 365 Organics, Stonyfield and Organic Valley. See their full report here.