Pesticides are toxins that are mainly used to kill bugs, weeds, fungi, rodents, and other "pests." They are commonly used for lawn treatment and farming, but also exist in many home cleaning products.
These dangerous chemicals can sneak into our children's food and water. Short-term exposure to pesticides can cause headaches, dizziness, muscle twitching, weakness, tremors, coordination problems, uncontrolled eye movements, blurred vision, rashes, or seizures. Long-term exposure can do more serious damage, including irritation to the eyes and breathing passages, disorders of the brain and nerves, damage to the liver and kidneys, chromosome injury, infertility, damage to the immune system, and even cancer.
So how can you protect your child from pesticides? Here are the two main methods for keeping pesticides out of your child's food.
Buy the Right Foods
Start by shopping for organic food whenever possible. The most important foods to buy organic are fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. The standards that foods must meet to be labeled as "organic" prohibit the use of pesticides in the food's production. However, this doesn't mean that the food couldn't have been contaminated by pesticides indirectly. In fact, a 2002 analysis by Baker, C. Benbrook, Groth, and K. Benbrook found that most organic foods did have some pesticide residues -- just a much lower amount compared to conventional food.
While fruits and vegetables are important foods in a child's diet, the fact that they're often grown on farms makes them more susceptible to pesticides. Fruits and vegetables that tend to contain the most pesticides include spinach, bell peppers, celery, peaches, apples, strawberries, and nectarines. But that doesn't mean that you should stop serving your child fruits and vegetables altogether. Studies have shown that some fruits and vegetables contain significantly less pesticide than others. Serve those to your child whenever possible.
Fruits that are generally low in pesticides include:
Vegetables that are generally low in pesticides include:
- Brussels sprouts
Regardless of what fruit or vegetable you're serving your child, always rinse it in running water before eating -- especially if these items will be eaten raw. The skin and fat in meat also frequently carry pesticides, so trim these off whenever possible.
Keep Pesticides Out of Your Home
Some people use pesticides on their lawns to keep the weeds and bugs away. But pesticides can seep into the ground and get into your water supply. Is it really worth possibly damaging the water in your neighborhood just so that you'll have a greener lawn? You may not think it's worth it, but there's no way to know if others in your neighborhood agree.
Have your tap water tested for traces of pesticides. If any are found, talk to a filtration specialist to see about installing a filter that all your tap water will run through, or simply switch to bottled water for drinking purposes.
There are also many household products that contain pesticides (which can get into your food). These include:
- Cockroach sprays and baits
- Insect repellents for personal use
- Rat and other rodent poisons
- Flea and tick sprays, powders, and pet collars
- Kitchen, laundry, and bath disinfectants and sanitizers
- Products that kill mold and mildew
- Some swimming pool chemicals
If you use any of these products (and just about everyone does use at least one), always read the label carefully. Do not store items containing pesticides in your kitchen and never use them in the vicinity of food. Always use the minimum amount necessary to get the job done -- remember that these are harmful chemicals.
You can also opt to buy biologically based pesticides (such as pheromones and microbial pesticides) which, though only recently introduced, are already showing a reduced risk of the possible side effects of pesticide exposure.
Sources: Environmental Working Group; The Nemours Foundation; United States Environmental Protection Agency
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.