We have all seen or heard horror stories around today’s “factory farms.” It is sometimes to hear or see it and go on eating business as usual.  We want changes to be made and at the same time, we know we need to get back to eating more vegetables and less processed foods. As a result, some of us choose to forego meat completely and opt for a totally plant-based diet (though the plant horror stories pour in daily as well! Even organic plants are increasing grown from GMO or compromised seeds or in soil that has contaminants so the need to be vigilant remains with all food purchases today.)

Going vegetarian has only become possible as a healthy lifestyle choice very recently.  In fact, there has never been a successful vegetarian society on record: every culture, tribe, or race has eaten some form of animal protein, whether it is game, fish, or insects. That’s because there are certain nutritional components such as vitamin B12 and essential fatty acids that our bodies require in order to function and until recently, these could not be acquired in supplement form.

Now it is possible to access these nutrients through pills, though research suggests that they may not be absorbed or applied as effectively as if we took them in directly from nature. Some choose the vegetarian lifestyle because they believe it’s healthier: they say it makes them feel better or have more energy — and it is certainly preferable in that regard to consuming processed food and empty calories. (We’ll talk more about the health benefits and risks shortly.)

Others make the choice as a means of affecting change or voicing discontent with today’s food practices, though many food insiders suggest that trying to change the system by removing your money from it is not the most effective strategy. Instead, they argue that more powerful change can be made by supporting sustainable and humane food practices like raising grass-fed beef, producing raw milk and giving your money to local family farms.

Almost every health guru is telling us to eat mostly plants these days and eating 50% of our calories from vegetables or having 9-13 servings of vegetables a day is becoming increasingly common as an eating goal, whether you are vegetarian or not. But there are key health differences and implications between eating ‘mostly’ plants and eating ‘only’ plants. Regardless of the reason you or your loved one chooses a vegetarian diet, there are some important health factors you need to take into consideration to ensure you thrive — and survive — on your plant-based plan.

Vegetarians and Cholesterol
Many vegetarians I know are confounded by the fact that they have high cholesterol, convincing themselves that it must be genetic. While the first thing I would say is that many studies show that people with high cholesterol live longer than people with low cholesterol and 75% of those who suffer heart attacks have “normal” cholesterol so don’t stress yet, they can’t figure out why and they are afraid that they are at heart health risk.

(Cholesterol tests are not an accurate reflection of your heart health risk; if you want to know what actually does predict your heart health risk, you’ll want to read my article on the one test your doctor isn’t doing.)

What they don’t realize is that we need cholesterol; it plays several absolutely essential roles in a healthy functional body. While a popular advertisement suggests that we run on coffee drinks, in truth, our bodies run on cholesterol. Cholesterol keeps cell membranes from falling apart and plays an integral part in cellular repair. It builds brain and nerve tissue, supports the immune system, and maintains neurotransmitter and brain function.

Cholesterol is also a vital pre-cursor to many major hormones including testosterone, progesterone, estrogen, cortisol, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Cholesterol helps regulate mood, is required for synthesis of vitamin D and helps us digest fat-soluble vitamins such as A,D,E and K. We could not live without cholesterol!

The body manufactures about 75% of the cholesterol it needs; the rest we must take in from foods. Without adequate dietary cholesterol, the body may divert cholesterol to where it is needed most: cellular repair and healthy function in key areas, especially the brain. When this happens, there may not be enough left for use in hormone synthesis, which can cause hormonal imbalance or other concerns.

This is why some people (especially but not limited to women going through perimenopause) who do not eat enough cholesterol may experience more severe hormonal reactions and symptoms.

In fact, the body has a built-in mechanism to increase its cholesterol production to override a severe shortage. When cholesterol is not being consumed in appropriate levels, the liver will step in and actually overproduce cholesterol. If you were to be tested at that time, your cholesterol levels could be considered high, even though you would actually be cholesterol deficient.

If you don’t eat much cholesterol, or you’re on a low-fat diet, that could be the case for you. (But hopefully you know by now that low fat is NOT the answer – not for health or for weight loss.)

We have to eat cholesterol or our bodies will produce it for us. Eating foods high in cholesterol won’t raise your cholesterol. That’s because if you eat cholesterol, your body will just produce less: it’s one of life’s perfect balancing mechanisms. While we can make up to 75% and we need to eat the rest to survive,  if we eat more than 25%, the body just produces less and brings us back into alignment naturally.

We can get the cholesterol we need by eating a typical diet including meat and/or fish. If you are vegetarian you can get cholesterol from egg yolks (one of nature’s super foods), butter, cream or cheese. The problem arises for vegans as plants only contain trace amounts and not nearly the level needed to support healthy brain and cell function.

While plant products such as flax seeds and peanuts contain phytosterols, which are cholesterol-like compounds, research suggests that these compounds actually compete with cholesterol for absorption in the intestines. This poses a health challenge for vegans as there is no adequate non-animal source of cholesterol; flax is the next best alternative. Vegans will have to use all their available cholesterol for cell and brain function and there may not be enough left over for hormonal balance and other functions.

Before we leave cholesterol, there are three foods that actually WILL raise your cholesterol. If you think you eat healthy and yet your cholesterol levels are high, you likely have inflammation and sending in cholesterol is the body’s way of dealing with that. (If you want to learn more about the three foods that will raise your cholesterol and cause health problems, you can read my article on three foods that raise your cholesterol here.)

Vegetarians and Homocysteine
One marker that unlike cholesterol has been directly linked heart health is high homocysteine levels. High homocysteine is a reliable risk factor for heart attack, stroke, diabetes, cancer, neurological conditions such as Alzheimer and Parkinson’s, thyroid concerns, infertility, depression, digestive disorders and chronic pain.

High levels of homocysteine impact your body in a number of harmful ways including accelerating aging and depressing your immune system but it’s rarely tested for because it’s expensive and there isn’t a prescription available to treat it.

Studies have shown that many vegans and vegetarians have high homocysteine levels. One study showed vegans to have 50% higher homocysteine levels and vegetarians to have 30% higher homocysteine levels than their omnivore counterparts. This is because their bodies lack the B12 required for conversion processes that must occur since B12 is typically found in animal protein.

Vegetarians were found to have 37% less (and vegans 59% less) B12 than the omnivore group, enough to constitute clinical deficiency in 78% of the vegans and 26% of the vegetarians. The study also showed that people eating vegan and vegetarian diets lacked the essential amino acid methionine because the levels in plants are lower than those found in meat. Vegetarians and especially vegans need to look to add B12 to their diets through injections, sublingual (under tongue) or spray B12 supplements.

(To learn more about what homocysteine is, how it works, the conversion process mentioned briefly above and why homocysteine is so important, see my article on homocysteine.)

Vegetarians and Depression
A recent study showed that vegetarians were more likely to face anxiety, depression or mental disorders than the general population. When they adjusted for age,  gender and education, within comparable groups they saw a 2 to 3 fold increase in incidence rates.

We already learned that cholesterol runs the brain and regulates your mood, so a shortage will have an impact on brain function. In addition we learned of the important of cholesterol in hormonal balance. If your hormones are out of whack, mood swings and depression can occur.

We also know that omega 3 essential fatty acids are critical to brain function and balance. Many studies have shown improvements in mood through omega 3 supplementation. Because these fatty acids are essential, our bodies cannot make them; we must eat them. Fish oil capsules are a great way to get the required dose, but for vegetarians and vegans, it is much harder.

There are 3 essential fatty acids: ALA, EPA, and DHA. The challenge to vegetarians is that you cannot get EPA or DHA from plants. (An algae-based DHA product is now  available but there are questions as to whether or not it is absorbed or utilized fully effectively, though something is always better than nothing!) ALA can be ingested from plant sources such as flaxseed, chia and hemp. While these seeds offer the greatest concentrations, they each pose another challenge. Hemp is not always easy to acquire or work with.

Flaxseed competes with cholesterol receptor sites and needs to be ground in order to be digested. While best fresh, flax seeds can be ground in advance and stored in the freezer, but there is some evidence that after age 45, we don’t absorb the oil by-product as well. Purchasing flaxseed oil is an option but it cannot be heated or it will damage the ALA and drinking it straight can be a challenge.

Lastly chia seeds have an omega 6-3 ratio of 3-1. We need to be eating omega 3 and omega 6 oils in a ratio of 1:1. In todays world, that ratio can sometimes be off by 1-20 or even 1-50 with all the omega 6 oils and oil products we consume. So while chia can help, it also adds to the omega 6-3 imbalance burden (though again, for some vegetarians, this may well be necessary and worthwhile.)

You can also get ALA from walnuts and pumpkin seeds, though in much smaller doses. Soy and canola also contain small amounts of ALA, but given the negative health impacts, they are best avoided.

Even if you eat enough ALA, the then body has to convert it to EPA and DHA. If you eat enough and you are very healthy, that may work fine. But some people will struggle converting ALA efficiently and if you have other issues going on that impact your ability to convert effectively, your body — and your brain — will be affected because it will not be able to convert enough to keep you healthy and mentally strong.

To learn more, you can read about my article on omega 3s.

Vegetarians and Soy
I am working on a full article on soy, coming soon. But for now I just want to mention soy briefly here because many vegetarians use soy as a protein alternative. Fermented soy foods such as miso, tempeh, natto, and traditionally fermented soy sauce have long been a nutritional staple in many cultures and they offer tremendous health benefits.

However, unfermented soy is no longer grown or processed in a way that affords us health benefits. Soy is an endocrine disruptor, which we discussed in the prostate and breast health article. It takes up the estrogen receptor sites, blocking estrogen from getting into cells and leaving it circulating throughout the blood stream. This excess estrogen can lead to hormonal imbalance, development of breasts in boys and men, and prostate and breast cancer concerns as well as thyroid problems, to name but a few of its many health concerns.

Soy milk, soy cheese, tofu, soybean oil, and many commercial artificially created soy sauce varieties are not health foods but rather pose health risks; they should be minimized.  If you’re looking to use soy, stick with fermented soy products.

Vegetarians and Diabetes
Contrary to what we might think of living a healthy plant lifestyle, vegetarians actually struggle with diabetes. The largely vegetarian country of India now faces the highest incidence level in the world and it is continually rising. That’s because in India, as the middle and upper classes have emerged, sedentary jobs are on the rise and Western food habits have invaded. Long known to be lovers of sweets, Indians love the sugar that is now plentiful, as well as the fried and processed foods we eat in the West, which may be vegetable-based but are no less healthy.

While some people lose weight on a vegetarian diet, others gain weight as they seek to satiate themselves with bread and pasta and empty carbohydrates that covert quickly into sugar. They also tend to gain weight in the more dangerous place, the abdomen.  They may lack enough healthy fat in their diets and so their bodies seek to store more.

It’s important to combine healthy fat and protein with vegetables so vegetarians need to look for good fat sources such as olive and flaxseed oils, avocados, and coconut oil and be sure they are getting adequate protein from other sources such as quinoa. (For more information on diabetes and why food combining is so important, see my article on The Diabetes Myth.)

Some people thrive on a vegetarian diet: they look good and they feel good. Others grow very thin, frail and weak: when you see them they look pale and move slowly. I read a study awhile back that stated that only about one-third of the population could be successful on a vegetarian diet.  That study assumed that you aggressively supplemented for missing nutrients and ate all the varied nuts, seeds, legumes and other foods needed to round out a balanced nutritional profile.

Taking all of that into account, they found that still only about a third of us could be healthy on a vegetarian diet. So if you have chosen a vegetarian lifestyle for any reason, you need to pay close attention to your body and listen to what those close to you see and share with you. I cannot tell you how many former vegetarians have told me their lives changed the day they went back to eating small amounts of animal protein. That may not be you but I have personally observed strong healthy adults turn into overweight or abnormally thin versions of their former selves on vegetarian diets.

I’ve tried to go vegetarian and for me, I did not thrive. But it works for many people I know. Just not all.  If you look and feel great and you are able to procure all the micronutrients that you need, then you may be among the third of the population who will do fine on a vegetarian diet. But be wary of persuading your family, friends or co-workers to join you because what works for you may well not work for them (especially children).

If you begin to see your body shift over time that you don’t like, or if you’re not willing to devote the time and energy it takes to plan your diet thoroughly, then you may want to consider making some changes that will enable you to support your morality along with your health.

Whether you go vegetarian or not, we can all benefit from more a more plant-centric diet and from avoiding processed foods. That’s common ground we can all agree on!

To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal. Learn more about Inger and receive her free bestselling ebook What Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You.

Article Photo: courtesy of Apolonia | FreeDigitalPhotos.net


This is the last of four articles in the fruits and vegetables series. Previously, I looked at picking the right fruits and vegetables, examined how pesticides affect produce, and why frozen fruits and vegetables are better than canned.

One reason why frozen comes out the winner is that canned food contains Bisphenol A or BPA, which is a major concern when eating canned fruits and vegetables.

BPA is an industrial compound that has been shown to be toxic even at low doses. It is an endocrine disruptor, which means that it acts as a hormone in the body, taking up space in receptor sites and leaving excess hormones to flow through the body and cause damage. BPA has been tied to numerous health concerns including breast and prostate cancer, infertility, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and liver-enzyme abnormalities.

BPA is ubiquitous as it is found in so many places including water bottles, cans, air, dust, office water coolers, printer inks and toners and thermal receipt paper used by grocery stores and gas stations (which can rub off onto the hands and then be absorbed by skin or ingested after contact with the mouth). The CDC found BPA present in the urine in 93% of the U.S. population and the Environmental Working Group found BPA present in the cord blood of newborns.

Avoiding BPA is a positive step toward improving wellness, and while some exposure may be hard to avoid, avoiding canned products can prevent one big source of exposure. Virtually all cans, including those containing fruits and vegetables, soda, soup, baked beans, spaghetti and ravioli and even infant formula, are lined with BPAs. Most tin cans have an epoxy liner made from BPAs (ironically to prevent the interaction of the food with the metal in the can). It’s estimated by the FDA that 17 % of the American diet comes from canned foods (and that doesn’t account for all the canned foods served at restaurants), so this is a big area where we reduce can our exposure to BPAs.

The Environmental Working Group tested canned food across the U.S. and found that in more than half of the products tested, there were levels of BPAs 200 times the government’s traditional safe level of exposure for industrial chemicals. (There is no safe standard specifically for BPAs. The FDA acknowledges it’s a concern and examined BPA levels but failed to set a safe standard level against which to test.)

The National Workgroup for Safe Markets recently released a report titled No Silver Lining that tested a random sampling of 50 cans from across the U.S. and Canada, looking at typical products many Americans might eat on a daily basis. BPA was found in 46 of the 50 products. The highest level ever found in the U.S. was found in a can of DelMonte French Style Green Beans, with a level of 1,140 parts per billion or ppb.

Walmart’s store brand (Great Value) of Sweet Peas came in at 329.3 ppb. Healthy Choice Old Fashioned Chicken Soup had 323.6 ppb. Healthy Choice Chicken with Rice Soup had 172.4 ppb.  Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup had 130.4 ppb and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup had 127.5 ppb. The amounts varied by can even among the same product offering, perhaps reflecting the time the product remained in the can.

While again there are no specific acceptable levels of BPAs, the study found that consumption of even one can of food might yield more BPA levels than were shown to cause health effects on developing fetuses in laboratory animals.

Unfortunately, there are no viable alternatives that work across all food products, which poses a manufacturing challenge that has made the industry reluctant to change. Eden Organic is the only company using a BPA-free lining for canned foods that I know of; they bake an oil and plant-based resin onto the cans instead. Muir Glen, another organic company, hopes to be BPA-free within the next year or so. There is one premier fish product, Henry and Lisa’s Natural Seafood (Sashimi-Grade Canned Albacore Tuna) that is also BPA free.

But no company has been able to offer BPA-free canned tomatoes due to the acidity of the tomatoes and their tendency to leach more from the metal of the can. Glass may be an option for pre-made sauces, but keep in mind that manufacturers may purchase canned tomatoes as a base ingredient for the sauce, so they may still contain BPAs from their original content sources.

For those of you who use canned tomatoes, there are options other than using fresh tomatoes. Pomi tomatoes, distributed by Boschi Food and Beverage of Italy, offers tomatoes in BPA-free containers. Their chopped and strained tomatoes are available on Amazon. And Trader Joe’s offers tomatoes in cartons that are also BPA-free. Short of preserving them yourself, those are the best options.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is sponsoring a bill banning BPA from food packaging, allowing for a one-year delay in the ban to enable manufacturers to make the shift. Senator Feinstein stated, “I no longer eat food out of cans. I no longer buy cans. I look for jars.” (I am thrilled that she is working to eliminate BPA in cans, though she might suggest eating more fresh local fruits and vegetables instead of opting for those in jars!)

Sadly, in all but five states (Maryland, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Washington) baby and infant products are still sold in BPA-laden cans. Given babies’ size and developing systems, that seems criminal to me.

We should all try to avoid BPAs and proactively work to minimize our exposure: Avoiding food in non-BPA-free cans is a great first step. But it’s an effort that is even more important for pregnant women and young children.

According to obstetrician Hugh Taylor of Yale University School of Medicine, who studies the effects of BPA on pre-natal development, “Fresh fruits and vegetables may be more expensive, but I believe that the risk is too high not to spend the extra. The entire life of that individual may be altered by a few months of BPA exposure in pregnancy. This is where the greatest risk lies. We are programming the hormonal response of the next generation. The worst effects may not become apparent for years.”

One final word before we end this series on fruits and vegetables: Don’t let the cautions we’ve discussed prevent you from eating more fruits and vegetables. Try to get up to 13 servings a day. Fresh, local and organic is always best, but do the best you can. Definitely choose organic for the “dirty dozen,” even if it means opting for frozen. Buy local mixed with frozen for the rest, with as much organic as your wallet and lifestyle will allow.


To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at www.IngerPols.com

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art


In the two prior articles on fruits and vegetables we covered a lot of ground around making better fruit and vegetable choices, for your body and our planet. While we know fresh local organic fruits and vegetables are the best choice, most of us will need to call on canned or frozen vegetables on occasion because of time and convenience factors or seasonal availability.

So before we leave the subject of fruits and vegetables, I’m going to discuss some important health implications to consider with frozen and canned vegetables and also look at how many servings you should really be eating. Let’s start by exploring the important question: Can you get the nutrition you need from five servings of fruits and vegetables per day?

Nutrient Decline in Fruits and Vegetables

Recent studies have shown comparable nutritional value between fresh, frozen and canned vegetables, but for very different reasons. (Nutritional value isn’t the only consideration, as we’ll soon see.) While experts agree that fresh local vegetables are best, the “fresh” vegetables found in our markets may have been shipped across the country or from around the world, hindering the development of their full nutritional profile. That’s because they are picked before they are ripe, so they never develop the full spectrum of vitamins, minerals and enzymes that mature ripening allows. (And as we discussed in the last chapter, if they are not organic, the produce is sprayed with harmful chemicals to delay their ripening and to prevent spoiling, bruising and insect damage.)

In addition, during transport, the fruits and vegetables are exposed to heat and light, which degrades certain vitamins like vitamin C and the B vitamins. Vitamins like C that react with oxygen change chemically so that they no longer work the same way in our bodies; this is called oxidative degradation. One study followed broccoli coming to market and found it traveled 2,095 miles from California to Chicago: That’s about four days if a truck travels 70 mph for eight hours a day. Add in the time from farm to truck and then from warehouse drop-off to market and then to your table and you can see that even domestic produce travels long and far.

It’s estimated that fresh fruits and vegetables lose more than half of their nutritional value on the journey from farm to table (when they are not local). This concern is compounded because studies show that the inherent nutritional value of fruits and vegetables has declined significantly during the last 50 years. The vitamin and mineral content of produce is decreasing because of genetic modification, breeding practices that increase volume and cosmetic appeal, ripening systems, storage processes and chemical fertilizers.

Four recent studies looked at data from 1930-1999 in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Regardless of which time period was looked at or which country, the results were consistent: Nutrient value is declining. As an example, in 1951, a woman could get her full-recommended daily allowance of vitamin A from two peaches. Today, she would have to eat 53 to get that same nutritional content! This is why I recommend everyone take a whole food multi-vitamin, as it is difficult, if not impossible, to get your full nutritional needs from our food supply today, even if you eat really well.

This is also why the Center for Disease Control and the Produce for Better Health Foundation have launched a campaign to increase fruit and vegetable consumption with the slogan “Fruits and Vegetables—More Matters.” This campaign replaces the old “five a day,” as it’s generally accepted now that five servings of fruits and vegetables are simply not enough any more. Seven to 13 portions a day for adults is considered the new standard, though based on the data above, even that may not be enough.

Most of us simply don’t eat that much. The USDA guidelines are even lower, suggesting a range of five to 13 servings, but the FDA says that only 11% of Americans meet those levels. Twenty-five percent of Americans don’t eat any vegetables and 50% don’t eat any fruit on a daily basis.

Without question, the best way to maximize the nutritional value of the produce you do eat is to buy local (preferably organic) and consume it within a few days. But if we are going to increase our daily fruit and vegetable consumption to the above recommend levels, or hopefully even beyond, most of us are going to have to look to frozen or canned options to get what we need: Fresh local produce in season simply won’t be possible year round. So let’s look at the issues around frozen and canned alternatives.

Frozen and Canned Vegetables: Are they Nutritionally Comparable

I’ve already discussed some of the issues that fresh food faces on its journey to your table and why its nutritional profile may be diminished as a result. A recent study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture looked at the nutritional value of fresh versus frozen and canned vegetables and found them all to be comparable. While the study is imperfect in that “changes in moisture content during storage, cooking and processing can misrepresent changes in nutrient content” and suggests that a more accurate comparison would be possible if future research expressed nutrient data on a dry weight basis, nevertheless, the study concludes that recommending fresh vegetables exclusively ignores the nutrient benefits available from frozen and canned vegetables.

In the case of canned fruits and vegetables, the thermal treatment in the initial processing can result in the loss of water-soluble and oxygen-labile nutrients such as vitamin C and the B vitamins. But after that, nutrients remain stable due to the lack of oxygen inside the can. Frozen products, on the other hand, lose fewer nutrients initially because they are typically blanched and then frozen within hours of being picked and there is less heat involved in the process. But they can lose more nutrients during storage time due to oxidation. The longer they stay in your freezer, the more nutrients they will lose, so as with fresh, try to consume them on a timely basis, especially after opening the bag.

In the end, both lose slightly more nutrients than fresh produce but the study concludes they are good supplemental alternatives. However, it’s important to note that these processes do not alter pesticide residues, so frozen or canned produce is still susceptible to toxin exposure.

In the study we looked at in the previous newsletter, (which examined the connection between kids who eat pesticide-ridden fruits and vegetables and the incidence rate of ADHD), one of the biggest offenders was frozen blueberries. While they may escape some exposure due to the fact that they don’t need to be sprayed to delay ripening or prevent insect damage in travel, frozen fruits and vegetables still absorb significant amounts of chemicals in the growing process that cannot be washed away.

Even though many pesticides get into the core of the produce and cannot be washed away, you should always thoroughly wash any produce to remove what you can from the exterior. Frozen fruits and vegetables have not been washed and still require careful cleaning before consuming.

And for the “dirty dozen” most pesticide-ridden fruits and vegetables, I still recommend you buy organic versions, even if you buy frozen.

If your supermarket has a separate organic section, you’ll find them in the freezer case in that section. Some supermarkets keep all the frozen products together and you can usually find organic versions in the traditional case. (If your market doesn’t have an organic section, it’s time to find a new market! Regardless of whether you choose to buy organic versus conventional, any market that doesn’t give you that choice is not a business I’d want to support.)

While canned vegetables may afford a similar nutritional profile to frozen or fresh vegetables, there is another very important health consideration that makes canned vegetables a less desirable choice: Bisphenol A or BPA. I’ll discuss the implications of BPAs in canned vegetables in the next newsletter.


To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at www.IngerPols.com

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art


Each year, almost a billion pounds—or nearly three pounds per person—of pesticides are sprayed across the U.S. Before herbicides and pesticides were introduced 57 years ago, 37% of our crops were being lost to pest damage. Today, despite the pervasiveness of pesticide use, pests are destroying MORE than 37% of our crops.

And it’s not just in the U.S. We import heavily sprayed foods from countries that use chemicals the United States banned long ago. While pesticides have not had any significant effect on crop loss, they have definitely had an effect on our health. I think pesticide exposure levels in our food, water and environment are cause for concern today, but I am even more concerned about the effect they will have on future generations if we don’t start making some changes in the way we grow—and buy—our foods.

In the last article, I looked at which fruits and vegetables are the most pesticide-laden and how you can make the best choices when buying fresh fruits and vegetables. Today, I’m going to discuss some of the effects these choices have on our health and look at other issues worth considering, including whether to buy food from abroad.

The Effect of Pesticides on our Health

Pesticides are toxins that can affect our nervous systems and damage our reproductive systems. (Not surprisingly, chemicals designed to prevent pests from reproducing can affect our ability to reproduce as well.) Some pesticides are more harmful to us than others and the extent of their effect on our health depends on which pesticides we are exposed to, in what amounts and at what frequency. Some, like organophosphates and carbamates, affect our nervous systems. Others disrupt our hormones and affect the endocrine system. Some are known carcinogens, while others irritate skin and eyes.

Pesticide exposure can result in both chronic and acute health concerns. Some of the chronic health concerns include shortened attention span, memory disorders and reduced coordination, early onset Parkinson’s disease, reproductive problems, hormonal disruptions and imbalance, birth defects, depression and cancer. (As far back as four decades ago, Miami University did a study on terminal cancer patients and found that in the random selection tested, they all had exceptionally high levels of pesticide residues in their liver, brain and fatty tissues.)

Some of the acute conditions pesticide exposure can trigger include blurred vision, headaches, eye problems, skin conditions, seizures, diarrhea, nausea and wheezing. Mild to moderate pesticide poisoning can even present symptoms similar to asthma, bronchitis and gastroenteritis, especially in children.

Children are particularly susceptible to these problems because of their developing body systems. CNN reported recently on new research that children across the U.S. who eat typical kid-friendly foods like frozen blueberries, fresh strawberries and celery had twice the likelihood of receiving an ADHD diagnosis. (Previous studies focused primarily on communities of farm workers and found that exposure to pesticides led to behavioral and cognitive problems in children.)

Researchers analyzed the urine of over 1,000 children and found that the kids with above average levels of one common pesticide byproduct, malathion, had double the chance of receiving an ADHD diagnosis. Since pesticides are designed to have toxic effects on the nervous systems in order to kill the pests, researchers concluded it is not a stretch to imagine that these chemicals can have an effect on the nervous systems and brain chemicals of children exposed to them.

We are all born with some pesticide exposure in our systems passed to us in utero. We add to that through our daily food and water choices and our environmental exposure. Some of us are more susceptible because of our genetic makeup or higher in utero exposure levels, but all of us can manage our pesticide exposure by making better choices.

I think our pesticide exposure through food, water and environment is so pervasive today that we should all try to minimize our exposure. If you have kids, are pregnant, have a compromised immune system or make lifestyle choices that you know place greater burden on your liver, it is even more important to pay attention to your food choices and avoid “the dirty dozen” most heavily pesticide-ridden produce and buy organic instead.

Buying Food From Abroad

In generations past, we ate along with the seasons, varying our diet depending on what grew at that time of year. Today, we eat much more limited diets, as many of us tend to eat from the same food groups repeatedly with little deviation. As a result, we eat our favorite fruits and vegetables year-round.

This practice not only restricts our diets and limits our exposure to the many other fruits and vegetables available each season, but it has also resulted in big business for international produce exports. The importation of fruits and vegetables raises a number of concerns about the carbon footprint of our foods, the use of pesticides illegal in the U.S. that are still being used in foreign countries and the nutritional value of food that is picked before it is fully ripe so that it can make the long journey to us before it spoils.

Though the U.S. has banned the use of some known carcinogenic chemicals in our food production process, several developing countries routinely use such chemicals in farming.

Just one example of this (and sadly there are many more) is the pesticide DBCP or Dibromochloropropane. In the late 1970s, workers at a pesticide plant in California discovered that DBCP exposure had rendered them sterile. Some companies stopped production while an investigation was undertaken, but some did not. (One company, Amvac, told its stockholders that they would continue to sell it even though it had suspected carcinogenic and mutagenic properties because a vacuum existed in the marketplace during the investigation and they hoped to take advantage of it.) After a two-year investigation, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that DBCP does cause sterility and it was banned for use in the United States.

However, just because a chemical is banned in the U.S. does not mean there are restrictions abroad. In this case, DBCP is sold to Coast Rica, Honduras and Ecuador for use on banana plantations and then that produce is sent back to the U.S. for consumption. (Dole recently made the news with a lawsuit from banana plantation workers related to sterility from DBCP; it’s still being used in banana production today.)

One recent test indicated that bananas from Central and South America revealed 45 pesticides that are “allowable” by FDA standards as well as 25 prohibited pesticides and 37 additional poisons that the FDA does not test for. The FDA rarely refuses entry to produce or seizes any shipments, so there is little reason not to spray heavily. (One Mexican farmer stated that because Americans want blemish free produce and won’t eat items with insect marks, they spray four times as much pesticide on any produce destined for the U.S. than for any other location.)

If the FDA does test a produce sample, they remove a small section but send the rest to market while the tests are being run. So if they do in fact find excessive pesticide levels or other concerns like unknown poisons, there is little consequence because the American public has already consumed the produce by the time it is discovered.

In addition, the nutritional value of foods that travel long distances is often compromised. In order to make it to market prior to spoiling, fruits and vegetables are picked early, before they are ripe, and then sprayed to protect them from ripening too soon while still in transit. Food that is picked early before it fully ripens is not fully developed and its enzyme profile is different than that found in a mature, ripe version.

For example, unripe fruit has an insoluble form of pectin known as protopectin. But as it ripens, enzymes make the pectin soluble. In the case of fruit or vegetables from far away, they may never reach their ripe and mature nutritional state because they are sprayed to delay ripening and we consume them prior to that ever occurring or because the chemicals sprayed to prevent them from ripening on their journey effectively prevent them from ever reaching full mature development.

Buying organic reduces our pesticide exposure in foods we eat, but it also reduces the pesticide exposure in our environment. Pesticides remain in the soil—often for many years—affecting future crops, sometimes even generations later. In addition, spraying results in airborne chemicals that drift over homes, gardens and schools creating health concerns for many people—especially children and those living in rural farm areas.

There are so many great reasons to opt for organic produce, but it is also important to support our local farms and farming communities, as there are greenhouse gases emitted from airfreight to consider.  I’ve heard the argument that buying air freighted out-of-season produce is the equivalent to driving a Hummer.

So how do you decide between an organic apple from New Zealand or a conventional pesticide-laden product from a neighboring farm?

Local versus Organic

This is not an easy question to answer, and one you will have to decide for yourself based on your commitment to local agriculture, your concern about carbon footprints and your tolerance for agrichemicals in your food. I try to support local farming to the extent possible and will choose local produce, even if it’s not organic, whenever possible. (Especially if I can talk to the farmer directly at the farm stand or the farmer’s market and ask about how the produce is grown.)

The one exception to this is “the dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables discussed in the prior article, in which case the harms of the heavy pesticides outweigh any other considerations for me as I have developing children. So when buying those fruits and vegetables (and a few others toward the high end of the list that we eat regularly) organic is always my first priority.

Of course, when possible, getting something local AND organic is always ideal and I try to seek that. But in today’s world where time and money are always a consideration, that is not always possible. In the next newsletter, I’m going to look at how to make the best choices when you can’t get fresh produce and you need to buy frozen or canned versions as substitutes. (You’d be surprised to know how much restaurant food, even at nice restaurants, comes from a can!)


To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at www.IngerPols.com

Photo Source: Wikipedia


Getting the right info on buying the best fruits and vegetables is as important as ever, so I want to answer some of the questions people ask me regularly about making healthy fruit and vegetable choices, such as: when is it worth splurging on organic if my budget is tight? Is frozen better than canned? Do I need to wash everything, even if it has a skin? And, how do I decide between local and organic?

I’m going to begin by telling you which fruits and vegetables are the safest, and which are the most pesticide-ridden, so that you can start making better choices immediately.

The Dirty Dozen

Several years ago, Consumer Reports magazine assessed the pesticide residue levels in fruits and vegetables based on data from the USDA, with foods prepared as they would be in a typical home.

The score was a composite that was based on how many samples contained pesticides, the average amount and the toxicity of the particular pesticides that were found. In this report, a result over 100 indicated cause for concern. Peaches domestically grown in North America came in at 4,848. Winter squash (domestically grown) came in at 1,706. Domestic apples landed at 550. Domestic pears, spinach, grapes, celery, green beans, grapes from Chile and spinach from Mexico all fell in the 250-450 range.

With anything over 100 being cause for concern, this study illustrates why people are so worried about pesticides in our produce supply and why it is worth spending more for organic.

Organic foods will rarely be completely pesticide-free; they still have some trace levels of pesticides due to contaminants that remain in the soil or are airborne. However, studies have shown that people who consume conventional fruits and vegetables have pesticide residues in their urine and those who consume organic fruits and vegetables do not.

In today’s economy, money can be tight and we are all looking to stretch wherever we can; but spending a little more to buy organic can be a wise investment in your health. If you cannot afford to buy everything organic, but you still want to make some healthier food choices, here are the 12 fruits and vegetables that are worth splurging for organic. According to the Environmental Working Group, these fruits and vegetables contain between 47-67 pesticides per serving (which cannot be washed away).

In order (from worst to somewhat better, keeping in mind all 12 of these should be avoided to the extent possible if they are not organic), they are:

  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Domestic blueberries
  • Nectarines
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Spinach, kale and collard greens
  • Cherries
  • Potatoes
  • Imported Grapes
  • Lettuce

If your five+ servings a day of fruits and vegetables are coming primarily from these foods, you are taking in high levels of pesticides that are linked to autoimmune disorders, cancer and ADHD. (And I suspect many other conditions that studies have not yet revealed because of lack of funding for such research.)

We can handle a little bit of pesticides from time to time, but if you are eating other foods that contain toxins or consuming a lot of fructose or drinking a lot of alcohol, your liver is already busier than it should be and it isn’t fully available to detoxify your chemical load.

If you eat from this group regularly, over time you will add significantly to your toxic load; you need to consider not only the effect of these foods, but also the effect of these foods in conjunction with the other things you are eating and doing (or not doing). Children, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems need to be especially vigilant. It’s estimated you can avoid as much as 80% of your pesticide exposure by choosing organic forms of these fruits and vegetables.

The Clean 15

It may not be that helpful to assess the rest of the fruits and vegetables because your primary focus should be on avoiding non-organic forms of the produce above. But it often surprises people to know some of the cleanest, least pesticide-ridden produce.

In order, from best to not as good, but still pretty clean, they are:

  • Onions
  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Mango
  • Sweet peas
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Sweet onions

While we might like to eat only organic fruits and vegetables because they are healthier and often they taste better, if you are watching your pennies, there is no reason to splurge on organic forms of these.

It’s important to note that pesticide residue levels are measured after produce is washed and peeled. So no matter what you are buying, even the clean 15, you should clean your produce with a good veggie wash. You can find citrus-based veggie washes in your grocery produce aisle: water is not usually enough. I wash everything that comes into my house, even if it says it has already been washed. And peeling soft skinned fruits will help reduce pesticide levels as well.

The fruits and vegetables that do not appear on either list are just that: not the best, but not the worst. You’ll want to weigh the conventional versus organic options in light of what else you eat and your financial considerations. If you opt to buy conventional instead of organic, always look to buy produce that is as local as possible. If not at a farmer’s market, your local supermarket often has some produce from regional farms and that is always a better choice than food from far away.

Dissecting Food Labels

In addition to the above lists, you also need to be a wise consumer and read produce signs and labels carefully when purchasing fruits and vegetables. Food stores such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have both conventional and organic options, just as your local market may, so you have to be careful about what you are buying: conventional produce from Whole Foods or your local natural foods store is no better than what’s in your local market, and it may be much more expensive.

Some large chain supermarkets (such as Hannaford here in New England) have a wide selection of organic produce that is often cheaper than specialty stores like Whole Foods. Regardless of where you buy, it’s worth reading food labels, as they will tell you the truth.

Conventional produce (grown with herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and fertilizers) will have a sticker that has a four-digit number that begins with a 4. For example, a conventional grown banana might read 4011. Because 4 digit codes have now been used up, you will begin to see stickers will four digit codes beginning with the number 3 that are also conventionally grown.

Organic produce has a five-digit code that starts with the number 9. For example, organically grown bananas might read 94011.

Genetically engineered produce (to be avoided) will have a five-digit product code that starts with the number 8, so a genetically engineered banana would read 84011. (Much produce today has been genetically modified, which won’t be apparent, but if it was specifically genetically engineered, it has to carry a label starting with 8.)

So anytime you are looking to buy organic, just check to make sure the sticker starts with a 9. Supermarket produce sections can be misleading, so double check to make sure you are buying what you really want.


To your wellness and health: your true wealth!


Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at www.IngerPols.com

Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art

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