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The Dirty Dozen: What's In Your Fruit?


Strawberries, peaches and grapes are healthy, kid-approved additions to any diet. But are they all safe?

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The Dirty Dozen

By Julie Christensen

What's in your fruit and veggies? That's what the Environmental Working Group (EWG) figures out with its "Dirty Dozen" list of produce with the highest pesticide levels.

Apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, imported nectarines, grapes and spinach top the list. Lettuce, cucumbers, domestic blueberries and potatoes round out the worst offenders, with green beans and leafy greens added as potential hazards.

Cultivating Controversy

The list is controversial. Opponents, such as Richard W. VanVranken, an agricultural agent in Atlantic County, New Jersey, who specializes in vegetable crops, says it's based on less than credible research and the organization uses scare tactics as a fundraising maneuver.

On the other hand, many researchers have documented the risks of pesticide contamination to children, including studies from Harvard University and Mount Sinai Medical Center, linking high levels of pesticide exposure to decreased cognitive ability and an increased risk of ADHD.

Eat Safely

What's a concerned parent to do? According to the EWG and other health organizations, the benefits of eating produce—even conventionally grown produce—far outweigh the risks, and they urge consumers to eat at least six servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Read on for some common-sense ways to incorporate fruits and veggies into your family's diet safely.

Blend It Up

Children's growing brains and bodies are especially vulnerable to pesticide injury. Buy organic baby food or make your own from frozen organic vegetables. Simply thaw fruits and vegetables slightly, and throw them in the blender with a little water. For older kids, blend up a combination of organic fruits and vegetables for a sweet smoothie jam-packed with healthy nutrients.

Buy Organic When It Counts

So you can't afford to buy organic all the time. That's fine, but try to avoid produce from the top of the new Dirty Dozen List. Specifically, buy organic apples and strawberries. These two fruits top the list and they're also among the foods kids eat the most. Buy organic ketchup and applesauce—two other foods kids eat often.

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Opt for Frozen Produce

Wellness coach Denise Baron says frozen organic fruits and vegetables are usually cheaper than their fresh counterparts. Common organic frozen foods include berries, green beans, broccoli, kale, sweet potatoes and peas.

Give 'Em a Bath

Add 2 tablespoons of baking soda or lemon juice to 1 quart of water and soak your fruits and vegetables for 15 minutes to remove dirt and pesticide residues, recommends certified health coach Rachel Feldman. Peel peaches, apples and other thin-skinned fruits and vegetables, which tend to absorb the most pesticides.

Shop at Warehouse Stores

Stores like Costco are constantly enlarging their selection of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and veggies, usually at significant savings over natural food stores. Organic apples typically cost around $1.40 per pound, about the same price as conventionally grown apples, and the quality is usually higher. You won't find bruised or shriveled products here. Buy organic berries, mixed vegetables, corn and sweet potato fries in the freezer section and stock up on organic applesauce by the case.

Buy Local

Buy fruit and vegetables when they're in season from local farmers. Visit your local farmer's market or join a CSA (community-supported agriculture). In recent years, small, organic farms have sprung up across the country. These farms offer the freshest, most delicious produce you'll find at prices you can afford. Pick-your-own organic farms, such as the Berry Patch Farm in Brighton, Colorado, are also a great choice. Not only would your family benefit, but you'd be supporting small, local farmers as well.

Grow It Yourself

Get the family involved in growing a garden. Garden produce is affordable and as fresh as it gets. Plus, you'll know exactly what's on your plants—and what's not. Plant leafy greens like spinach and lettuce, carrots, peas and radishes in early spring. These crops grow quickly without much fuss. Later, try your hand at tomatoes, peppers, green beans and summer squash. Short on space? Try a trellis to conserve room or grow compact varieties in pots. One note: Watch the pesticides you and your neighbor use on the lawn since these chemicals can drift onto garden vegetables, negating your goal of an organic garden.