Benefits vs Risks

The presence of low levels of pesticide residues doesn't signal a risk. Tolerances are legal limits, not medical limits—set far below what is considered safe for the most sensitive part of the population, including infants and children.

In fact, the use of pesticides may reduce other risks related to food. For example, fungicides help control aflatoxin B2, a naturally occurring toxin in grains and peanuts. Most important, the prudent use of pesticides helps ensure a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, which supply important vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and other phytonutrients for human health.

Any pesticide residues in foods you buy are present at minimal levels. It's safe to say that they probably won't pose any risk to your health. You can add more to your safety net by the way you handle food in your kitchen . . . or by the way you grow fruits and vegetables in your own garden:

  • Choose produce carefully. Avoid fruits and vegetables with cuts, insect holes, mold, or decay.
  • Wash fresh fruits (including melons) and vegetables with water to remove residues on the surface and in the crevices. For foods such as carrots, squash, apples, and pears, use a vegetable brush to clean them even more—if you eat the fiber-rich skin. Rinse well. Avoid soap, unless it's especially meant for produce, because it leaves its own residues. As an option, use a produce wash formulated to remove soil, wax, and pesticides. Rinse well after using a produce wash.
  • Remove outer leaves of lettuce, cabbage, and other leafy vegetables.
  • Although you could peel some fruits and vegetables, recognize what you'd be giving up—the nutrients and the fiber that the peel contains.
  • Eat a variety of foods. Not only do you get the nutritional benefits of food variety, but you also minimize pesticide risks. Different crops require different pesticides, so variety limits exposure to any one type.
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