When we eat vegetables and whole grains, we usually consider the micronutrients, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. This is very important, but what about all the pesticides and toxins we are consuming? According to the EPA, the U.S. used 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides in 2011 and 2012 with agriculture accounting for 90% of all pesticide use!

It is common to hear about the high incidence of antibiotics and poor livestock practices that are used in our food system, but the way our produce and grains are treated is just as important. This, of course, isn’t to say we should not be eating fruits and vegetables. We just need to be aware of the pesticides being used and how to reduce our consumption and exposure to them.

Glyphosate, more commonly known as Roundup, is the main herbicide used in the U.S. This herbicide changes our gut microbiome (the community of microorganisms that live in our digestive tracts). Terry Shistar, Ph.D, of Beyond Pesticides, links glyphosate to blocking an enzyme that supports the pathway of beneficial bacteria. These bacteria are critical to our gastrointestinal health as they assist in digesting and absorbing our food and keeping certain bacteria and toxins from leaking through our gut lining and into our bloodstream (“leaky gut”).

Leaky gut can lead to many chronic and acute conditions ranging from digestive issues to neurological issues. It inhibits our body from digesting and absorbing our food properly. If we are not digesting our food properly, we are at risk of nutrient deficiencies and poor immune function. Some signs and symptoms that we are not absorbing our food properly include, but are not limited to, poor digestion (constipation, diarrhea, indigestion/heart burn, bloating, gas, belching), chronic fatigue, skin issues, and brain fog.

In our toxic world it is impossible to completely avoid pesticides and toxins; however, there are steps we can take to limit our pesticide exposure.

  • For starters, we can shop organic.

Farmers who grow organic crops must follow specific rules to become certified organic. For 3 years prior to harvest, farmers must demonstrate that they have not used any prohibited materials on their crops; this includes synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and GMOs.

Another important regulation required for organic crop production is that the crops are not able to have residues exceeding 5% of the EPA tolerance. There have been many conflicting studies in the amount of pesticide residues found in organic foods, some being much higher than 5% and some demonstrating the regulations are being adhered to. Regardless of this data, shopping organic lowers our exposure to synthetic chemicals and increases consumer demand for organic which is important for our overall food system.

Many small farmers may not be certified organic as it is expensive and time consuming to go through the process. Your local farmers market is a great way to find organic produce that may be grown without any use of pesticides. It is much easier to use organic and sustainable practices on a small farm than it is on a large-scale farm. Talking with your farmer is a great way to learn about how the crops they are selling are grown and what practices they use to combat weeds and pests.

Sometimes eating or purchasing only organic fruits and vegetables is not possible. The Environmental Working Group put together a list of the top 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest concentrations of pesticides called the “Dirty Dozen”. Limiting your intake of these foods that are grown non-organically can limit the amount of pesticides you consume.

The EWG also put together a list called “The Clean 15” which is a list of the fruits and vegetables with the least amount of pesticides. But even if we eat organic and avoid the “dirty dozen”, we will still be ingesting pesticides through the ‘organic pesticides’ that are allowed in organic food production as well as the residues that are found on organic food from conventional methods.

Developing a strong microbiome and immune system can help protect our bodies from the pesticides we are consuming. But it’s not just about eating organic or taking a magic pill; it’s about a lifestyle.

  • Get more soil exposure.

Soil is filled with living bacteria that help improve our gut health and immune system. It is rich in microorganisms and minerals, which strengthens our gut lining and immune system. Throughout almost all of history, humans have been in close contact with the earth via growing food, swimming in rivers, and just being outside.

Sadly, these days, our time spent outside is limited. Touching the earth and breathing fresh air increases the amount of beneficial microorganisms getting into our body. This leads to a healthier immune system by encouraging your body to produce a variety of healthy bacteria naturally. An increase in gut integrity allows the body to protect itself naturally from pesticides and other toxins we ingest.

  • Have a healthy attitude.

When we exhibit love and gratitude on a daily basis, our body settles into the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system which is also known as the “fight or flight”. The parasympathetic nervous system allows our body to properly digest, eliminate, and deliver oxygen rich blood throughout our body. A healthy attitude improves our immune system and allows our body to work on healing itself. Best part about this one? You can start right away!