Parasites, Pesticides, Veggies Oh My: What’s Hiding in a Grocery Store Near You?
Everyone and their mother are ready to tell you all about the wonderful benefits of including more vegetables in your diet — and they’re right. Many of us unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly) suffer from a diet lacking in vital nutrients that a veggie here and there can do wonders for.
However, no one is ready to talk about the dark side of eating vegetables. Why? Mostly for the same reason stated before: they just don’t know. Many people blissfully buy produce from the supermarket, thinking the vegetables they’re purchasing must be safe and were screened before being placed on store shelves.
However, not everything gets caught. That being said, it’s best to take a second look at what you’re eating and brush up on your knowledge on the monsters and assassins that are lying in wait in your veggies.
The thought of creepy crawlies in your food is bad enough, but having them in your body is on a whole other level. The truth of the matter is, you can possibly be ingesting malicious, antibiotic resistant parasites with each bite of your veggie wrap for lunch.
When people think of parasites, the average tapeworm is probably most often what comes to mind. Although it’s never considered good to contract tapeworms, they’re nothing compared to what these parasites that could be lurking in your food can do:
- Echinococcus granulosus: Although part of the tapeworm family, this parasite packs a considerably bigger punch. The usual hosts for these worms are dogs. However, humans can become unlikely carriers by eating foods that have been contaminated by egg-laden soil or the feces of infected dogs or livestock. Once ingested by a human, the worms cause a disease known as cystic echinococcosis. This occurs when the parasite migrates to your liver and forms cysts on the organ. These cysts grow slowly, so symptoms may not occur until years later. However, if these cysts rupture for any reason, they could potentially lead to death. These parasites can be found in vegetable such as leafy greens and herbs.
- Entamoeba histolytica: No vegetable is safe from this parasite. Since all it takes is for food to come in contact with water contaminated with the parasite’s eggs to become infected, any and all produce can become potential carriers. Once the protozoan is ingested and finds its way to your digestive tract, it causes you to have amoebic dysentery, resulting in pain in your abdomen, bloody diarrhoea, and possible death. If this parasite looks to spread its wings to other parts of your body, your organs can be at risk of life-threatening abscesses as well.
- Angiostrongylus cantonensis: This parasite (also known as the rat lungworm) can be found in snails, slugs, and rats. Rat lungworms originate in rats and are passed on to snails and slugs when they come into contact with rat feces infected with this parasite’s larvae. When rats eat these contaminated snails and slugs, the cycle begins again. However, if humans beat the rats to it by consuming these mollusks (such as in a salad), the rat lungworm takes a very different path. When this parasite travels through a human’s spinal cord and brain, it causes a disease known as neural angiostrongyliasis. Although most detrimental in babies, adults have also been known to suffer from permanent neurological damage and even die from this parasite.
Even though over 20 pesticides can be found in a person’s body, many people still do not take the risks of ingesting pesticides as seriously as they should. Some believe produce has harmless levels of chemical residue when made available for purchase or that government regulations prevent the sale of food with unsafe levels.
However, there’s much more to the story. Vegetables are usually deemed safe to eat when individual pesticides fall under a safe amount, but the combination of different chemicals is usually not considered. There is no set amount of chemicals that can be used on produce, and most contain residue of more than one pesticide.
Not much is known about the effects of the interplay between different chemicals, leaving who knows how many people unaware and vulnerable to numerous medical conditions. Also, depending on where your vegetable of choice was grown, it can have much more chemical contamination than you might think due to the differing regulations of foreign countries.
Although some food products have shown a decrease in harmful residue exposure, others have not. For instance, the amount of pesticides found on pears and grapes have lowered greatly over the years, but the high chemical levels of green beans have not changed in two decades. This should cause concern in most of us since many of these chemicals are classified as carcinogenic and may disrupt our body’s hormonal balance.
Children are at most risk to suffer from the adverse effects of pesticides since their metabolism is not mature, but adults have been known to be victims of cancer, neurological disorders, and fertility issues when in contact with these chemicals as well.
With chemical hazards being some of the top workplace hazards to combat, people who work with pesticides and are in direct contact with them have the greatest chance of experiencing the most detrimental effects.
Before you throw out all your vegetables and write them off for good, there are a few things you should know. Even though it cannot be overstated how devastating parasites and pesticides can be, vegetables are still good for you and offer a wide array of health benefits that cannot be replaced by other means. By following some simple food prep tips, you can eradicate a lot of the risks associated with eating produce. Here’s what you can do:
- When possible, purchase organic
- Even if organic, sometimes they can still be contaminated from neighboring farms that use pesticides and could possibly have come in contact with parasite-contaminated water. Combat this by thoroughly rinsing all vegetables (even ones that are pre-washed) under water for 30 seconds to a minute.
- Vegetables with edible skins should also be brushed while being run under water. Afterwards, clean your brush in a dishwasher or by hand with soap.
- Animals who are possible parasite hosts should be screened during vet visits or removed by pest control if not a pet. If living in warmer climates, it’s best to keep an eye on your palm trees to make sure they’re not the home of rats who can carry rat lungworm and various diseases.
- With vegetables such as lettuces and cabbages, remove the outer leaves if bought in heads since this is where most of the pesticide residue will be.
- Wash your hands frequently, especially before, during and after food prep.
- Cook vegetables when you can. The heat will kill off most parasites.
Yes, scary things can be hiding in your vegetables. Dangerous parasites and pesticides are a sobering reality that can’t be denied. However, by incorporating preventative steps in your food preparations, you can reap the benefits of vegetables instead of the risks.