Results of testing vegetables from farms in Massachusetts showed no pesticide residues in 100 percent of the samples. Bonanno reports only 0.5 percent of conventionally grown foods (but three to four percent of imported foods) are over EPA standards. A 2005 survey of 13,621 food samples revealed pesticide residue exceeding the tolerance was 0.2 percent.(1)
Yet, watchdog groups such as www.beyondpesticides.org and www.foodnews.org wave red flags and remind us, for example, that small amounts of pesticides can accumulate in the body. This may be of particular concern during vulnerable periods of growth, such as with young children.
Clearly, whether or not to buy organic foods becomes a matter of personal values. Bonanno sees "organic," in part, as a marketing ploy, with organic foods portrayed as being safer and better. He argues we do not have a two-tier food system in the US -- with wealthier people who can afford to buy organic foods being the recipients of safer foods.
An Athlete's Options
So what's a hungry but poor athlete to do?
- Eat a variety of foods, to minimize exposure to a specific pesticide residue.
- Carefully wash and rinse fruits and vegetables under running water. This can remove 99 percent of any pesticide residue (depending on the food and the pesticide).
- Peel fruits such as apples, potatoes, carrots and pears (but then, you also peel off important nutrients).
- Remove the tops and outer portions of celery, lettuce and cabbage.
- Buy organic versions of the foods you eat most often, such as organic apples if you are a five-a-day apple eater.
- Sometimes (if not all the time), buy organic versions of the fruits and veggies that are known to have the highest pesticide residue, even after having been washed. According to the Environmental Working Group (www.foodnews.org), the "Dirty Dozen" includes these fruits: apples, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, strawberries and red raspberries -- and these vegetables: potato, bell peppers, celery and spinach.
- Save money by choosing conventionally grown versions of the "Clean Dozen" (with little or no pesticide residue): banana, kiwi, pineapple, mango and papaya (note that foods like papaya, mango and banana have their own protective shell, so this reduces pesticide exposure on the flesh of the fruit); asparagus, avocado, broccoli, cauliflower, onion, sweet corn and green peas. (For a complete list of 43 fruits and veggies, see www.foodnews.org.)
When all is said and done, whether or not to make the extra shopping trip and pay the higher price is an individual decision. But for athletes who are concerned about the environment, there's no question that buying organic food helps save small farms -- and the future of our planet.
For Additional Information
Agricultural Marketing Service of the US Department of Agriculture -- Pesticide Data Program
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) www.EPA.gov/pesticides
Beyond Pesticides (formerly the National Commission Against the Misuse of Pesticides)
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Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., counsels both casual and competitive athletes in her private practice at Healthworks (617-383-6100), the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill, MA. Her best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook , Food Guide for Marathoners and The Cyclist's Food Guide are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com or www.sportsnutritionworkshop.com.
- USDA Pesticide Data Program, Annual Summary for Calendar Year 2005, page 31 www.ams.usda.gov/science/pdp/status.htm(pdf download)