Which Alarming Health Concerns You Can (and Cant) Ignore | Reader's Digest

Which Alarming Health Concerns You Can (and Can’t) Ignore

Scary medical headlines grab all the attention, but these everyday habits may be more likely to harm you.

By Teresa Dumain
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine December 2013

health scares vegetablesDan Saelinger for Reader’s Digest
HEALTH FEAR: Pesticides on produce
• WORRY MORE ABOUT: Not eating enough fruits and veggies

We’re all aware of the bad stuff about pesticides—that certain studies have linked them to nerve damage, cancer, birth defects, and other health problems. And every year, the Environmental Working Group puts out a much-publicized list of what it deems the “dirtiest” fruits and vegetables in terms of pesticide residue. But before you stop eating apples (named the most-contaminated this year) or think twice about buying kale (also on the list), consider this reassuring statement from Carl Winter, director of the FoodSafe Program and Cooperative Extension and a food toxicologist at the University of California at Davis: “We are all exposed to small amounts of pesticides in our produce, but it’s typically at levels one million times lower than even amounts that don’t cause any noticeable effects in lab animals exposed to pesticides every day of their lives,” he explains. Eating organics may lower exposure but won’t fully eliminate it.

But if fears of pesticides prevent you from eating plants, that’s a real concern. Compelling evidence shows that a diet rich in produce can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers; it can also help manage your weight, improve brain function, and literally add years to your life. One new study that followed more than 71,000 Swedes for 13 years found that those who ate at least three servings of vegetables per day lived almost three years longer than people who reported not eating vegetables. Regardless of whether you consume conventional, organic, local, or imported, aim for two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables daily, and choose from a wide variety. “While eating produce may seem hazardous to some, not eating it is always fatal,” says Winter.

Next: Worry about overusing antibiotics, not superbugs »

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