Eat a garden of nutrition to celebrate Earth Day

Eat a garden of nutrition to celebrate Earth Day

By Sarah Lawson, RD
Registered Dietitian

Today is Earth Day, the day to recognize and support environmental protection around the world. You can show your love for our Earth (and your health) by increasing your consumption of fruits and vegetables.

To eat organic or not to eat organic?

One of the most common questions I’m asked is about organic produce. My first response is always that eating any fruit or vegetable is better than eating NO fruits or vegetables. The health benefits of consuming produce far outweigh the potential side effects of exposure to pesticide contamination.

However, there are recommendations of certain fruits and vegetables to purchase organic.
This list of fruits and vegetables (known as “The Dirty Dozen”) are considered to contain the highest levels of containments and pesticides. Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has now been controlling the use of toxic pesticides, some foods still test positive for high levels of harmful toxins.
Today, the Environment Working Group (EWG) has released their updated guide for shoppers for 2013.

Consider purchasing organic versions of these foods whenever possible:

  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Nectarines (imported)
  • Cucumbers
  • Potatoes
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Hot peppers

Additionally, domestically-grown summer squash and kale/collards are considered by the EWG in the “plus” category. While these foods did not meet the Dirty Dozen standards, they were found to have increased exposure to an exceptionally toxic form of pesticide called organophosphates. Although organophosphates have not been used agriculturally since the 1970-80s, this contaminant still is present in the fields of many farms.

Clean Eating

Though the Dirty Dozen list may seem overwhelming, the EWG created the “Clean Fifteen”; foods which tested for the lowest levels of pesticides. A common factor in these fruits and vegetables is the nature of their protective coatings, which naturally repels bug contamination and thus decreasing the need for the use of pesticides.

The Clean 15

  • Onions
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapples
  • Avocado
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet Peas
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplant
  • Kiwi
  • Cantaloupe
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Grapefruit
  • Watermelon
  • Mushrooms

The bottom line is this: eat your fruits and vegetables! While it is advised to purchase organic whenever possible, it is not necessary. As a Dietitian, I encourage you to do the best you can! (You can find more information from the Environmental Working Group here.)

What are your thoughts? Do you purchase only organic? Will you avoid certain foods if organic is not available?

Comments
Adam Michelson
I do buy a lot of organic food. For the most part, I'm concerned about the environment. However, there's a sort of catch 22 situation that I've run into.

Soil runoff and water pollution that results from overuse of synthetic nitrogen (rather than the chemical residues) is out of control in developed areas such as the US and China. Much organic food, even though it supposedly uses no N fertilizer, is grown using manure from livestock that is fed with crops that have been grown using that very same maligned chemical fertilizer, and, since organic ag is vastly less productive than conventional, more land is needed, and more labor, which equates to massive pressures in other perilous ecological areas of concern such as Global Warming and species loss. It has been estimated that Chemical fertilizers have, since their inception, saved wild lands such as jungle and savannah amounting to an area the size of Russia. Meanwhile, sub-Saharan Africans could really benefit from a huge increase in fertilizer use, given that there's a few hundred million undernourished people just trying to eat a few squares a day, and here we are splitting hairs over apples and kiwis. Just sayin'-- I'm having a hard time being as 'holier than thou' as I have been since I went "green". Happy Earth Day.
4/22/2013 10:56:35 AM
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