Recently featured on Good Morning America, the Environmental Working Group identified a “dirty dozen” list for the most contaminated produce that includes: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, grapes, carrots, and pears. Eat fewer of these and you will live longer, they suggest.
The EWG’s suggestion is seriously wrongheaded. First, there is a considerable body of evidence showing that consuming relatively large amounts of fruits and vegetables has tremendous public health benefits. Second, there is scant evidence that the traces of pesticides found on these products poses any health problem whatsoever.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health explain that eating lots of fruits and vegetables “can help you ward off heart disease and stroke, control blood pressure, prevent some types of cancer, avoid a painful intestinal ailment called diverticulitis, and guard against cataract and macular degeneration, two common causes of vision loss.” They suggest eating as many as possible—at least 9 servings or about 4.5 cups a day for the average person. According to Harvard, the average American only consumes about 3 servings a day, which means many people consume even less.
Peaches—the EWG’s number one villain—are recommended by medical professionals because are high in potassium, a great source of vitamins A and C, and also offer the cancer-fighting antioxidant beta carotene. Drs. David Bryne and Luis Cisneros at the Texas AgriLife at Texas A&M University are working to breed peaches and other stone fruits to further enhance the anti-oxidant value.
Cisneros notes: "Stone fruits are super fruits with plums as emerging stars." In fact, studies conducted by Cisneros and Bryne find anti-oxidants in plums are as high as those found in blueberries, which are usually touted as the number one source for these cancer-fighting chemicals. Peaches and nectarines also tested quite high in for anti-oxidant value. Cisneros and Bryne are developing a red-skinned peach that could prove even more beneficial.
Yet EWG advice would have consumers forgo the fruits that research and other cancer-fighting foods because of trace-level pesticides. Yet the data EWG used to make its case—residue sampling of produce conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture during 2000-2007—reveals the pesticide levels are negligible.