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Did Your Child Eat 90 Cups of Strawberries This Morning?

If that happened, then be concerned with pesticide residues.  Everyone else can forget about the Environmental Working Group’s annual “Dirty Dozen” list.  

I can always tell it’s spring — that’s when the EWG issues it’s list of fruits and veggies with pesticide residues, just when people are looking forward to spring and produce.  The EWG’s message is always the same:  Avoid the Dirty Dozen.  And the failures of their message are also the same:


AGAIN, the EWG fails to put pesticide use into context and AGAIN, that’s irresponsible. (Example: even a child would have to eat 181 servings (about 90 cups) of strawberries, the #1 food on Dirty Dozen list, to exceed safe levels. An adult male would need to eat 635 servings (about 317 cups) of strawberries. 

AGAIN, the EWG doesn’t mention the pesticides used in organic agriculture.  There are hundreds of them, and even a few dozen synthetic ones that are allowed under certain circumstances – while still allowing the food to carry an “organic” label.

AGAIN, consumers should be reminded that the feds have been looking at this for decades, through its Pesticide Data Program.

The “Villains”

Kale: The new addition to the “Dirty Dozen”
  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

It Really Is ALL Good

You’ve heard that “the dose makes the poison.”  It’s true, but the dose also brings the benefit.  Let’s remember: ALL the research proving the healthfulness of eating plenty of fruits and vegetables – fresh, canned, frozen, dried – throughout our lives, was done using CONVENTIONALLY grown produce, not organic. 

Organic is just another choice.  If buying organic gets you eating more fruits and vegetables, then terrific!  But if you can’t find them, can’t afford them, or simply want to eat healthful food that’s also more economical, then the conventionally-grown option is fine.  I eat organic produce sometimes, when it’s convenient and reasonably priced.  I also eat ALL the conventionally-grown produce on the “dirty” list. 

No, I Won’t Peel My Apples

Eat the peels! There’s good stuff there!

That may remove pesticide residues but it’s probably healthier to eat the edible peels and skins on produce – they’re loaded with antioxidants and prebiotic fiber.  The research supporting eating fiber outweighs the near-non-existent negative research on pesticides on our food.  It’s also a huge waste to throw away these edible portions.


My EdibleRx about LAST YEAR’s Dirty Dozen holds as true today as it did then, except that kale made this year’s list, bumping off sweet bell peppers. Yawn.  If you hate kale, you’re thrilled.  But if you like it, then it won’t kale you to keep eating it without concern.  

Still Have Doubts?

Get the facts.  This cool tool calculates how many servings of one of the Dirty Dozen a man, woman or child would have to eat before pesticides could become a concern.  It’s from the Alliance for Food and Farming – a non-profit organization of BOTH organic and conventional growers of fruits and vegetables on all sizes of farms.

Wanna Eat Healthy? Get Your Nitrates!

Think nitrates in your food and eating healthy don’t go together? What’s this gorgeous spinach salad have to do with nitrates? Read on, but let’s start at the beginning.

You’re not going vegan but you want to eat better and you’ll start with baby steps, like I talked about in my previous post.  OK, and here are some popular intentions:

  • Try and eat more leafy green stuff.
  • Definitely cut the hot dogs, ham, bacon, the deli stuff, and “processed” meat, even if it’s lean.  Everyone knows that stuff is “bad” because it has nitrates, right?

Swapping out hot dogs and ham for spinach and beets (the new “in” veggie for 2019, as I mentioned here) would at least cut back on the nitrates, right?  Wrong. 

Where the Real Nitrates Are

Indeed, a bunch of healthy, nutrient-rich veggies like beets, spinach, celery, even iceberg lettuce and broccoli, have more nitrates than that hot dog you snuck in for lunch last week.  Check out this chart from a 2012 report of the nitrate content in foods.  Amounts are in “parts per million” (ppm):

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More nitrates than a hot dog — & it’s healthy food!
  • Beets: 2797 ppm
  • Spinach: 2333 ppm
  • Celery: 1496
  • Mushrooms: 590 ppm
  • Broccoli: 394 ppm
  • Strawberries: 173 ppm
  • Cured sausage (hot dog), cooked: 32 ppm

Are Nitrates in Fruits and Veggies a Problem?

No, and not in other foods either, according to Melissa Joy Dobbins MS, RDN, CDE and known as The Guilt-Free® RD.   “This is a great example of how misinformation can create a “fear factor” when it comes to food. I think most people who are concerned about nitrates/nitrites would be surprised to learn that the majority of these nutrients in our diet are not from cured meats, but from plant foods, namely a variety of vegetables.”

Dobbins’ statement is evidence-based and reflects the conclusion of this 2015 meta-analysis of many studies on dietary nitrates, nitrites, and nitrosamines, which found nitrates associated with a decreased risk of gastric cancer.  The slight increased risk associated with increased nitrite intake was considered weak, and tended to come from weak or poorly-designed studies, which muddied their findings.  Even then, spinach still has more nitrites than cured sausage.

Nitrates & Their Cousins: Nitrites and Nitrosamines

Here are the basics you need to know about these:

  • Nitrates are naturally present in lots of different foods. 
  • Nitrites are also naturally present in foods but most are formed when bacteria in your saliva convert nitrates to nitrites. 
  • Nitrosamines are not naturally present in food but can form in food through several pathways.  Cooking at a high temperature, such as frying cured meat, or when an acid (like stomach acid) is present.  If there’s any concern, it’s with the formation of nitrosamines.  Even then, conversion from nitrite to nitrosamine can be inhibited or stopped by the addition of compounds like ascorbic acid, or “vitamin C”.  Seriously – check the ingredient label of many cured foods like hot dogs and you’ll find “ascorbic acid” is often present. 

“Nitrate-Free” Cured Meat?

There are cured meats labeled “no added nitrates.”  What they add instead is celery powder.  As you’ll see from the table above, celery is loaded with natural nitrate.  There’s no evidence that there’s any difference between the nitrate in celery powder and the nitrate added to “nitrated” cured meat. 

Celery: Fine wherever you find it

Nitrates: The Boil-Down

It’s ironic to know that someone eating a spinach salad is probably getting 10 times more nitrates than the person eating the ham sandwich, but Dobbins noted, “Does that mean we should be afraid of eating vegetables? No. It means we should look at the overall nutrients a food provides and try to consume more nutrient-rich foods and fewer empty-calorie foods.”

It may be that the folks who eat lots of cured meat may also have a less-healthy lifestyle overall.  They may be less likely to engage in regular physical activity, and less likely to eat a lot of veggies and fruits, and may drink more soda or eat more junk snacks.

Cut-To-The-Chase-Advice

Eat all the spinach, beets, mushrooms, celery and broccoli you can fit into your diet.  As for cured meat, I like Dobbins’ approach. Nitrates may not be an issue but balance still is, so don’t go crazy at a cold-cut buffet.  If you like cured meats, make them leaner cuts, like ham, instead of sausage.  And have that ham with lots of veggies – even high-nitrate ones like spinach and broccoli.  A meal loaded with nitrates can, and should, still be healthy.  0000000000000