“We all love to eat, but the ugly reality is that some foods can make you sick. We’re not talking about salmonella here; none of what’s listed below should send you directly to the hospital with a debilitating illness, though Jeremy Piven recently claimed to have mercury sickness from a diet too rich in sushi. While the verdict is still out on Piven’s poisoning, certain foods, when eaten too frequently, can pose a very real health risk over time (especially if you are thinking of having a baby or if you are feeding a small child).
The dangers of these foods range from PCBs in certain fish, to large trace amounts of pesticides on fresh fruit and veggies. This past year, the National Institutes of Health even linked long-term pesticide exposure to diabetes. To avoid these health risks, we came up with a list of ten foods to beware, both for your health and for the health of the environment.
1. Farmed Salmon
Tim Fitzgerald, a scientist with the Oceans Program of the Environmental Defense Fund, says, “Salmon is the third most popular seafood in the US, so people are eating a lot of it and most of what they’re eating is farmed. As a result of the feed salmon are given, they are very high in PCBs and environmental contaminants. For reasons of health, the environment, and popularity with consumers, farmed salmon is at the top of the list of seafood to avoid.” The average dioxin level in farmed-raised salmon is 11 times higher than that in wild salmon .
2. Conventionally Grown Bell Peppers
Even though pesticides are present in most food at very small trace levels, their negative impact on health is well documented, and certain produce carries a greater risk. According to a report done by the Environmental Working Group, sweet bell peppers are the vegetable with the most pesticides detected on a single sample (as many as 11 were found on one sample). In addition, bell peppers are the vegetable with the most pesticides overall with 64 different pesticides found on samples. Better to buy organic and eliminate this risk.
3. Non-Organic Strawberries
In order to increase sweetness, some growers of non-organic strawberries are said to irrigate the plants with water laced with the artificial sweetener NutraSweet. And that luscious red color is caused by the fungicide captan, recognized by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen. Do you really want to eat something bathed in a chemical sweetener and doused with a likely cancer-causer? Probably not.
4. Chilean Sea Bass
Chilean sea bass, otherwise known as Patagonian toothfish, lives for a very long time and grows to a large size; both are automatic warning bells for being high in mercury. Fitzgerald says, “We have some pretty comprehensive data that Chilean sea bass are extraordinarily high in mercury and not something you want to eat very often. When you factor in the very serious environmental issues with illegal fishing and bycatch, it’s definitely a double whammy for us.”
“That said, we don’t want to give the impression that if you eat one piece of fish with mercury, you’re going to get mercury poisoning. But if you continually eat fish with a lot of mercury over an extended period of time, that’s when you’re going to see more serious issues like unexplainable fatigue, memory problems, and tingling or numbness in your extremities,” Fitzgerald says.
5. Non-Organic Peaches
Peaches aren’t just juicy and delicious, they’re magnets for pesticides, often topping the Organic Center’s consumer’s pocket guide for pesticide-riddled produce. The Center’s chief scientist Charles Benbrook says, “Peaches top the list because their skins get soft at the end of their season on the tree and the last pesticide spray can move right through that skin and get into the tissue of the fruit in a matter of hours. That’s why it’s easy to find peaches with ten different pesticide residues in them.”
Benbrook adds, “The last thing that we want to do is scrooge people from eating fresh fruits and vegetables. If anything, we want people to eat two to three more servings of produce a day. But the science is irrefutable. If the average family sought out organic versions of the top four fruits and vegetables they eat the most often, they could eliminate 90% of their overall pesticide exposure.”
6. Genetically Modified Corn
If you read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, one of the more shocking truths is the amount of corn found in the American diet. Corn is in everything from frozen yogurt to ketchup, from mayonnaise and mustard to hot dogs and vitamins. Unless specified as organic, the corn you’re ingesting is likely genetically modified. Genetically modified organisms have not been tested thoroughly enough for long-term consequences, but a series of studies has found significant health risks in animals tested, and an increase in certain allergies for humans.
7. Bluefin Tuna
Maybe it’s a good thing that not everyone has the luxury of eating a lot of toro at the sushi bar, because bluefin tuna is in grave danger from a population perspective. It’s also one of the more dangerous fish for mercury consumption, making it both a bad eco choice and a health risk for mercury exposure. Fitzgerald says, “The bluefin tuna is in such horrible shape right now. There are some populations that may go commercially extinct in the near future if we don’t ease up on the fishing.”
8. Industrially Farmed Chicken
While there has been much debate over chickens and hormones, there exists a great deal of misinformation. Poultry is not allowed to be given hormones in the United States, so while reports have existed for years that schoolchildren are experiencing early puberty due to excess hormones traced to chicken, there have not been enough studies done to prove this conclusively .
What we do know is that tests done by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found arsenic in conventional chickens. Arsenic has been linked to cancer and contributes to other diseases including heart disease, diabetes and deterioration of mental faculties. In addition, a study conducted in 2002 for the Sierra Club and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found multiple antibiotic-resistant bacteria in brand-name poultry products . Scientists believe antibiotic use in animals raised for food contributes to antibiotic-resistant bacteria transferred to humans, mainly through contaminated food, resulting in drug-resistant infections. In order to avoid poultry that’s been dosed with antibiotics or given feed laced with arsenic, better to opt for an organic chicken at the grocery store.
9. Non-Organic Apples
“Apples come with a red flag based on the sheer amount of apples in our diet and the reliance of pesticides in humid parts of the country,” says Benbrook. Apple skins contain higher pesticide residues. Higher risk apples are grown in the humid mid-Atlantic states and Michigan: They use more pesticides than California, Oregon or Washington state. A lot of those pesticides seep into the skin of the apple, so it’s always good to peel it. Unfortunately, approximately 1/3 of the nutrients come off with the peel, according to Benbrook.
10. Cattle Treated With rBGH
The use of genetically engineered drug rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) is widespread among the cattle industry in the United States. Banned by all European nations and Canada, U.S. dairy farmers continue to use the synthetic hormone which escalates production of the cow’s own hormone ICF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1). This hormone does not break down when humans consume milk from those cows and has been traced to higher risks of certain cancers, including breast cancer, and hormonal disorders. The only guarantee against ingesting these dangerous excess hormones is to buy milk labeled “no rBGH.” [source]