When Good Food is Bad For You

Posted: August 24, 2016 in Blog, Food, Health
Analysing Strawberries for Pesticides

While you might have started eating a healthier, balanced diet as a way to manage your weight, you’ll soon find lots of other benefits. Once you get used to the new diet, it quickly becomes just as difficult to imagine going back to your unhealthy old diet as it was to leave your ‘favourite’ foods behind in the first place.

Whole, unprocessed foods simply make you feel better – healthier. You can’t wait to hear the crunch of a stalk of celery as you bite into it – the same celery you avoided not too long ago.

But, unless that celery was grown organically, it could be causing you more harm than you think.

What Makes Fruits and Vegetables ‘Organic’

In Canada, you can know that a particular food is certified organic when it displays the Canadian Organic label. To earn the right to use the label, fruits and vegetables must be grown in accordance with Canadian Organic Standards and other standards that are enforced by some provincial governments.

According to the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada, the Canadian Organic Standards are based on seven principles:

  1. Protect the environment, minimize soil degradation and erosion, decrease pollution, optimize biological productivity and promote a sound state of health.
  2. Maintain long term soil fertility by optimizing conditions for biological activity within the soil.
  3. Maintain biological diversity within the system.
  4. Recycle materials and resources to the greatest extent possible within the enterprise.
  5. Provide attentive care that promotes the health and meets the behavioural needs of livestock.
  6. Prepare organic products, emphasizing careful processing and handling methods in order to maintain the organic integrity and vital qualities of the products at all stages of production.
  7. Rely on renewable resources in locally organized agricultural systems.

Generally speaking, organic standards are intended to maintain the health of the environment, livestock and humans.

The Cost of Producing Organic Foods

To meet and be certified according to organic standards, foods need to be grown in certain ways, using certain fertilizers and certain pesticides. But the cost of meeting those standards can make the food more expensive to buy in the grocery store. For example, many chemical fertilizers, which would not be allowed for use on organic produce, are designed to increase the speed of growth of the produce to increase the number of harvests each year. That means the same amount of land will produce more crops when they are grown conventionally, so the regular produce can be sold for less.

That added cost has slowed the acceptance of organic produce in our diets.

Some types of produce benefit more from organic growing methods than others. If you are concerned about high levels of chemical pesticides for example, organic fruits and vegetables that must be peeled, like peas and oranges, aren’t much different from their regular versions because the pesticides are generally found on the skin, which we don’t eat.

But organic versions of fruits and vegetables that we eat including the skin, like grapes and apples, will generally introduce lower levels of pesticides and contaminants into our bodies than the conventionally-farmed produce.

To help those of us who are both health-conscious and cost-conscious, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a U.S. environmental advocacy group has released the latest version of its ‘Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce’.

They tested thousands of samples of different produce to discover which ones retained more harmful pesticide residues than others. If you are concerned about consuming too many pesticides, you should avoid the conventionally grown versions of the worst offenders in favour of organic varieties. But, to stretch your food budget, you could consume more of the conventional varieties of the produce that shows the least amount of pesticide residue.

Here’s EWG’s ‘dirty dozen’ or the worst offenders on their list. Pesticide residues get higher in the foods listed as you move down the list, with the worst offender in the number one spot at the bottom.

12. Cucumbers
11. Cherry tomatoes
10. Sweet bell peppers
9. Tomatoes
8. Spinach
7. Cherries
6. Grapes
5. Celery
4. Peaches
3. Nectarines
2. Apples
1. Strawberries – D’oh!

On the other end of the scale, the following is the list of foods that had the lowest levels of pesticide residues. You can save money by avoiding the organic versions of these varieties because the health benefits are simply not as clear.

15. Sweet potatoes
14. Cauliflower
13. Cantaloupe (domestic)
12. Grapefruit
11. Eggplant
10. Kiwi
9. Papayas
8. Mangoes
7. Asparagus
6. Onions
5. Sweet peas (frozen)
4. Cabbage
3. Pineapples
2.Sweet corn

And the winner is…

  1. Avocados

If you want to learn more about eating a healthier diet while managing your weight and food budget, visit or call your local Herbal One Centre where a nutritional consultant is ready to help you.