Pesticides and your health: How to cut your exposure

Some studies have shown a link between pesticide exposure and health problems. Find out how to lower your family's exposure to pesticides without going broke.

The dirty dozen and consistently clean
Reducing the Risk
If you want fewer pesticides in your body – and in the environment – buy organic, says Dr. Kapil Khatter, a family physician in Ottawa and a pollution policy adviser to Environmental Defence, a national research and education group based in Toronto. If you can’t afford organic, buy local produce in season. "We don't have much control over what happens in other countries," says Khatter. "While Mexico, for example, actually has fairly good environmental standards, traditionally they've been worse than we have about enforcing them."

As well, says Henri Bietlot, national manager for the chemical evaluation section in the food safety division of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, we have a great natural pesticide in Canada, called winter. "We don't have to spray at the same level because the pest pressures are less than they are in the southern states, for example."

There are other measures you can take to help limit the amount of pesticides you and your family consume.
• If you can only afford to add a few organic fruits and vegetables to your shopping cart, focus on the ones that your family eats the most. 
Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to minimize your exposure to any one type of pesticide.
• Consider growing some of your own produce so you have control over what, if any, pesticides are used and the amount.
• While some experts recommend peeling produce to remove pesticides, Bietlot says peeling fruit isn't necessarily going to work. "When you spray an apple tree in the spring, there is no apple on the tree. So, it [the chemical] is actually going to be in the pulp of the apple as opposed to the surface." He recommends washing produce – both conventional and organic – with warm running water to remove bacteria and dirt. "If it helps remove some chemical residue, too, that's a bonus," he says.

The Dirty DozenScore*% with pesticides% with 2 or more pesticides
Sweet bell peppers8681.562.2
Grapes (imported)6884.253.2

The Consistently CleanScore*% with pesticides% with 2 or more pesticides
Sweet corn (frozen)23.80
Sweet peas (frozen)1122.92.3

*Contamination was measured in six different ways and crops were ranked based on a composite score from all categories. The higher the score, the higher the pesticide load. Get the full results of the study at SOURCE: ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP

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