Summer is here and many of us are filling our plates with vibrant fruits and vegetables. The produce section at the grocery store is packed, produce stands are popping up everywhere, and the farmer’s market season is in full swing. To me, summer is all about eating the rainbow!
What we don’t talk about, however, is the dark side of all this fresh food consumption.
What’s that? Pesticides.
These chemicals are often used to grow and produce the foods we love to eat all summer long, and they can have a negative impact on our gut and health (don’t worry, I’ll get to how you can detox here shortly).
Pesticides To Be Aware Of (& What They Can Do To Your Gut)
As you may already know, the purpose of pesticides is to keep unwanted pests — I’m talking insects, weeds, rodents, and fungi — from sabotaging our food while it’s growing and being harvested. On the surface, this sounds like a good thing, but these chemicals have been shown to have harmful effects on humans. In fact, pesticide exposure has been linked to increased risks of numerous conditions from cognitive dysfunction, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, to Parkinson’s disease and reduced fertility.
Many of the negative health consequences of pesticides can be traced back to the gut. The evidence is clear:
Exposure to toxic environmental agents, like pesticides, can affect our gut microbiome diversity.
Loss of diversity can then systematically sabotage our health. These chemicals act like antibiotics on the gut microbiome, leading to a loss of diversity that can be like the kindling wood for the fires of disease like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, colorectal cancer, neurological disorders, and more. Most commonly, environmental toxins like pesticides can lead to liver damage and a condition called leaky gut.
So which pesticides should you be aware of? There’s no easy way for you to know which specific pesticides are being used on the food you buy, but for your own knowledge, here are a few of the most common pesticides and the negative health outcomes they’ve been tied to.
- Chlorpyrifos: Chronic exposure to chlorpyrifos is most dangerous to children—it can impair their developing brains. Children exposed to chlorpyrifos in the womb may have slower reflexes, as well as higher risks of ADHD and other developmental disorders.
- Glyphosate: Used to kill weeds and grasses that threaten plants and produce. It’s primarily sprayed on Roundup Ready GMO crops (the top two in the U.S. are soy and corn). Glyphosate has been linked to increased risk of cancer, endocrine disruption, celiac disease, autism, and leaky gut syndrome. In 2015, it was reclassified as “probably carcinogenic” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Since then, many countries have limited or banned the use of glyphosate, but the U.S. has not, despite the many pleas from human rights organizations.
- Atrazine: Another herbicide, atrazine is also used to kill grass and weeds. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry issued a public health statement in 2003 claiming that exposure to atrazine can harm pregnant women, their children, and women who are trying to conceive. Specifically, maternal exposure to atrazine has been associated with low fetal weight and heart, urinary, and limb defects. It can also cause complications during pregnancy, like preterm birth, which can threaten the life and long-term health of a baby. Atrazine has been found in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
The bottom line: Given how closely our health and disease risk is tied to our gut health (and the health of your gut microbe ecosystem)—see other articles I’ve written on this here and here—it’s fair to say that avoiding pesticides is a smart decision for your overall well-being and longevity, as well as the health of your unborn child if you ever plan to get pregnant.
How to Lower Your Pesticide Exposure ASAP
1. Avoid the ”EWG’s “Dirty Dozen”
According to the Environmental Working Group and data from the USDA, the following fruits and vegetables are contaminated with the highest levels of pesticides. While our goal should be to consume as few pesticides as possible, it’s worth noting that certain fruits and vegetables are historically sprayed with more pesticides than others. If you aren’t already buying organic produce and need somewhere to start, the best place to start is with these high-pesticide fruits and veggies. In other words, if you can only afford to buy some organic produce, these are the ones you want to buy organic ALWAYS:
- Kale, collard greens, and mustard greens
- Bell peppers and hot peppers
2. Shop at a Farmer’s Market
In general, produce grown on small local farms contains fewer pesticides than produce grown on a giant industrial farm. Not to mention, their methods are usually more sustainable and the produce itself is richer in nutrients. Shopping at a farmer’s market supports local farmers that grow food with intention, rather than huge industrial farms. I always find the food is fresher, because the time from picking to your shopping bag is shortened by a lot. The added benefit is that you can also get to know your local farmers, who can explain their farming practices, including if and how they use pesticides. It’s a great opportunity to get to know where your food comes from.
3. Grow Your Own Produce
Growing your own food has numerous benefits, the most important one being that you can do it pesticide-free! Naturally, this depends on where you live and the climate, but even growing a portion of your fruits and vegetables can make a difference with regard to your pesticide exposure. Head to your local gardening shop and see what tools and seeds they recommend for your area. Or bring it indoors, and grow a vegetable garden year-round with a Click & Grow Smart Garden.
4. Wash Your Food Before You Eat It
To get rid of some pesticides, mix together 1 cup of distilled white vinegar and 4 cups of water (you can add some lemon juice if the vinegar smell turns you off). I like to do this in a large bowl in the sink. I soak each item for a couple of minutes and make sure to scrub the skin thoroughly if I’m going to consume it. Then, I rinse the fruit or vegetable thoroughly with water and pat it dry before putting it away.
If you follow the four steps above, you’ll be a lot closer to avoiding health issues caused by pesticides. That said, it’s impossible to avoid these chemicals altogether! Instead, we should be investing in ways to counteract the effects of pesticides on our health by supporting our body’s natural detoxification processes.
How to Support Detoxification with Food This Summer
Here are 5 foods that can help you detox this summer. Make sure you buy organic if possible!
2. Broccoli & Broccoli Sprouts
Broccoli has one of nature’s most powerful detoxifying compounds, called N-acetyl cysteine, or NAC. NAC is a key factor in producing another compound called glutathione, which is your body’s most powerful antioxidant. Glutathione works to repair damage caused by toxins and may even be linked to longevity. Broccoli sprouts — which are just 3 to 5 day old broccoli plants — also contains a compound called sulphoraphane, which demonstrated an ability to reduce liver injury and induce detox-related gene expression in scientific studies. You can buy these sprouts at most health food stores — just make sure you don’t overcook broccoli or broccoli sprouts as that can break down some of these detox-supporting nutrients!
3. Leafy Greens
Onions are high in a flavonoid called quercetin, which has demonstrated an ability to protect the liver after injury and prevent oxidative stress. Quercetin belongs to a group of plant compounds called flavonoids. Like other flavonoids, quercetin works as an antioxidant and it also contains potent anti-inflammatory properties.
You may be accustomed to thinking about “light” or plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, as being the most important for healthy detoxification. And while these are beneficial, detoxification also requires a generous supply of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, and thus are derived from protein. You can get your protein from all types of sources, like meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds.
Even in the best of times, the body would require appropriate nutritional support for effective functioning of the liver’s detox mechanisms. In the modern era of unavoidable environmental pollution, increased mental and physiological stress, and the degraded nutrient density of the food supply, even when following a nutritious, whole-foods diet, the body may require higher amounts of the particular amino acids, minerals, and other factors necessary for detoxification than we can typically get from food alone.
Enter the HAPPY GUT® CLEANSE SHAKE, which provides a powerful dose of fiber and nutrients helpful for stimulating liver detox and supporting intestinal and colonic function, which facilitates normal excretion, the final step in eliminating toxins like pesticides from the body. If you haven’t been investing in daily practices that help you reduce pesticide exposure, the CLEANSE SHAKE can help you get back on track.