Organic: Which Fruits and Vegetables Matter the MostShare
Research shows that human health has dramatically declined since we shifted from hunter-gatherer societies to agriculturally dependent ones (1). Why has this happened?
Nutritional deficiency in food is a serious issue today, and although cross-breeding has been a common practice for centuries, the dawn of Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs) has created unpredictable results (2). When the DNA of fruit and vegetable plants is altered, this changes the natural expression of proteins, producing higher levels of lectin, allergens, toxins, and carcinogens (3).
Lectins are proteins found in both plants and animals. The body struggles to break down lectins because they are resistant to stomach acid and other digestive enzymes (4). Foods that naturally contain lectins (like beans and potatoes) must be cooked thoroughly. Otherwise, they can cause inflammation, inhibit digestion, and absorption (5). Ricin - a type of lectin - is inserted into GMO fruits and vegetables to promote pest and herbicide resistance (6). GMO foods have been linked to kidney problems, liver failure, and more recently attributed to increases in food allergies and immune dysfunction (7). Additionally, GMOs bury themselves in the soil and have been a major contributing factor to the depletion of soil health and nutrient levels in the United States (8).
Organic fruits and vegetables are not genetically modified, do not have added lectins injected into them, and are produced without the use of pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals. Organic practices also promote the re-nourishment of the soil and other environmentally and sustainably sound practices like crop rotation. GMO crops require a large amount of toxic herbicides and pesticides because they are often bread to be herbicide and pesticide tolerant (9). GM crops have the highest levels of toxic residue of any crops in the United States (10) and herbicide tolerant crops use nearly 525,000 pounds of herbicide per year.
Non-organic fruits and vegetables are also genetically altered with BT toxin - a synthetic protein that acts as an insecticide (11). In humans, BT toxin cannot be broken down and has been shown to damage the cell walls of the GI tract increasing the prevalence of leaky gut and the spread of BT toxin into the bloodstream (12).
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) prioritizing your organic fruit and vegetable purchases is a good way to keep you and your family healthy (13). While not everyone can afford organic, you may want to consider avoiding produce with the highest levels of pesticide residue. The "Dirty Dozen" as they are called, are those fruits and vegetables with the highest toxic pesticide residue. They include the following:
- cherry tomatoes
- sweet bell peppers
Additionally, the following have also been added to the "Dirty Dozen": kale, collard greens, hot peppers, and snap peas (14).
The "Clean Fifteen" are those fruits and vegetables with the lowest pesticide residue levels and may be safer to consume as non-organic (15). They include avocados, sweet corn, eggplant, cabbage, onions, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwi, pineapple, grapefruit, and cantaloupe.
For added benefit, you may want to consider a white vinegar wash for your non-organic fruits and veggies. Although toxic pesticide residue can be absorbed through the roots of a plant, it is still important to wash them thoroughly to remove any remaining residue on the surface. Don’t just rinse under the faucet. Soaking fruits and vegetables in a white vinegar bath for 10 to 15 minutes has been shown to remove most of the pesticide residue. Before consuming remember to give a final water rinse.
References:(1) Ferrie, H. (2011). Evidence grows of harmful effects of GMOs on human health. CCPA Monitor, 18(5), 12-13.
(2) Labra, M., Savini, C., Bracale, M., Pelucchi, N., Colombo, L., Bardini M., & Sala, F. (2001). Genomic changes in transgenic rice (Oryza sativa L.) plants produced by infecting calli with Agrobacterium tumefaciens, Plant Cell Rep 20(1), 325-330.
(3, 4) Bao, P.H., Granata, S., Castiglione, S., Wang, G….et al. (1996). Evidence for genomic changes in transgenic rice (Oryza sativa L.) recovered from protoplasts. Transgen Res 5(1), 97-103.
(5, 9, 12) EPA Scientific Advisory Panel. (2001). Bt Plant-Pesticides Risk and Benefits Assessments, 76(1).
(6, 7) Kuiper, H. A., Noteborn, H. M., & Peijnenburg, A. M. (1999). Adequacy of methods for testing the safety of genetically modified foods. Lancet, 354(9187), 1315-1316.
(8) Benbrook, C.M. (2012). Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S.–the first sixteen years, Environmental Sciences Europe, 24:24.
(10, 11) Prescott, V.E., et al, (2005). Transgenic Expression of Bean r-Amylase Inhibitor in Peas Results in Altered Structure and Immunogenicity. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, 53(1).
(13, 14, 15) http://www.ewg.org/