Does Organic Matter?

Jacked Check – An occasional series fact checking the world of bro science

Claim: “If you can peel it you can eat it.” In other words, conventional produce is fine to buy and eat if you remove the skin, and therefore, pesticides.

Rating: Partly true.

Conclusion: Produce that has a protective shell, such as kiwi, cantaloupe, and watermelon, are consistently rated as having low amounts of pesticide residue. However, many pesticides are designed to be absorbed through the outer skin of produce, and plants can also take up pesticides through their roots and even as seeds.

The Details

Why do pesticides matter?

Pesticides are carcinogens. Pesticides impact the central nervous system (concentration, memory, psychomotor speed, anxiety, irritability, and depression). But what is most interesting to me is the impact of pesticides on the gut microbiome — the good bacteria in your gut.

We are learning that the phrase “trust your gut” is more than philosophical. The composition of bacteria in your gut impacts reproductive hormones, happiness (95% of serotonin is produced in the gut, not the brain), your immune system, your respiratory tract, your brain, and skin health. When we consume pesticides and herbicides designed to kill organic life around plants, these same chemicals disrupt the bacteria and microbes in our gut.

A healthy gut biome is also likely important for insulin sensitivity. Researchers have found a strong correlation between consumption of organic food and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Because excess insulin is the root cause of almost every ailment, the role played by organic food in overall health deserves further exploration.

Does the peel or thick skin on produce protect you from pesticides once you remove the outer layer?

Pesticides sprayed on fruits and vegetables accumulate on the outer peel, but the skin on fruits like citrus and bananas do not form an impermeable barrier. Pesticides can cross a fruit’s thick skin, and are often designed to do so, to protect produce from penetrating pests.

However, thicker peels may be more effective at keeping pesticides out of the flesh of some fruits. None of the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables named in the Environmental Working Group’s annual Shoppers Guide have a protective shell (strawberries and spinach are the worst offenders). Conversely, the “Clean Fifteen” includes mangos, watermelon, avocado, cantaloupe, and pineapple.

In any event, plants can also take up pesticides through their roots. Root vegetables, like carrots, are at particular risk for pesticide saturation, although sweet potatoes test low in pesticide concentration.

One type of insecticide called neonicotinoids, which represent 25% of the global pesticide market, is often coated on seeds. As a result, the chemicals become systemic throughout the growing plant.

Can you wash off pesticide residue?

For pesticides sprayed on the outside of plants, one study found that soaking fruit for 15 minutes in a solution of baking soda and water is more effective than a long soak in plain water or bleach solution. Regardless, giving your produce a long baking soda bath is impractical and a solution for no one. The short answer is that rinsing your produce in the sink does nothing to remove pesticides.

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