An Apple a Day, but Keep the Toxins Away!

by Amylee Amos MS, RDN

Apple picking season is upon us, and what could be better on a chilly evening than a warm, spiced, baked apple? Talk about a perfect dessert- you get all of the fiber and nutrients of the apple, while enjoying it’s natural sweetness brought out by disease fighting spices.

Of course, eating any fruits and vegetables is better than eating no fruits and vegetables, but unfortunately, Big Ag is making our nutritious apple a potential health hazard. For the last several years, apples have made their way to the top of the Dirty Dozen, the list of fruits and vegetables most laden with toxins from pesticides. This year the Environmental Working Group, who puts out the Dirty Dozen, found 80% of apples tested to contain diphenylamine. Diphenylamine is sprayed on conventionally grown apples to keep them from browning, thus extending their shelf life. Typically when apples are stored for long periods of time in cold storage refrigerators, they develop what’s known as ‘storage scald’, brown or black patches on the skin of the apple. By drenching apples in diphenylamine before storage, the apples are resistant to the discoloration (1).  

While this toxic compound keeps apples looking shiny and delicious, the diphenylamine on the apples breaks down into nitrosamines, a group of carcinogenic compounds, which means that they contribute to the development of cancer (2). Equally concerning, nitrosamines have been linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (3). While Americans are unknowingly munching away on the nitrosamines on our apples because our government neglects to admit the potential danger and harm they may cause, other countries have taken a more concerned approach. Because of the toxins on our apples, the European Union banned the import of American apples in 2012 (1). This is huge. The European Commission was unable to prove that diphenylamine was safe for human consumption and so they banned the toxin and regulated import of produce that contains it. While surely trade agreements and imports and exports are complicated issues (and well above my pay grade), the fact that Europe is worried about contaminates on our apples should worry us.

Critics of the organic food movement will argue that the amount of diphenylamine or any other toxin on apples is very small, and they would be correct in saying that. But the problem isn’t from eating just one conventionally grown apple. It’s from eating pounds of apples per year as well as eating tons of other pesticide and toxin laden foods. All of these toxins have a compounding effect. They way that all of these toxins are interacting in the milieu of the human body is too complex to be studied using our current tools. All we know is that they contribute to disease risk, likely in different ways and to a different extent in different people. But in terms of apples, just buy organic whenever possible, as this will dramatically cut down on your risk for toxic overload. Of course, if buying organic isn’t a possibility, try to find produce that is ‘pesticide free.’ This is often what you’ll be told if you buy your produce at a farmers market. The small farms that sell at farmers markets often cannot pay for the organic label, but they grow their foods using the same or very similar standards. And if cost is a deterrent for buying organic, go to the farmers markets just before they close. Most of the sellers don’t want to go home with any of the produce they brought with them, so they’ll often sell the leftover produce at your best offer. It’s worth a try!

Oh, and while you’re at it, try out this delicious spiced apple recipe…

Serving Size: 1 apple

Ingredients:

  • 4 small, organic apples
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • ½ cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, ground
  • ¼ teaspoon cloves, ground
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger, ground
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plain coconut yogurt (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Core the apples and cut out some of the apple from the center to create space for the filling.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the coconut oil, nuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and vanilla over low heat. Stir the mixture well.
  4. Once melted and well mixed, use a spoon to fill each apple with the mixture.
  5. Place the apples in an oven safe dish. Bake for 60 minutes or until fork tender (depending on the size of the apple, they may take longer).
  6. If liquid has leaked from the apples into the dish, spoon the liquid on top of the apples to moisten them.
  7. Optional: Add ¼ cup coconut yogurt on each apple and serve.

References:

  1. Lunder, S. (April 24, 2014). “Behind Europe’s Apple Chemical Ban.” Environmental Working Group. Retrieved from: ewg.org on October 22, 2018.
  2. Bartsch, H. & Montesano, R. (1984). Relevance of nitrosamines to human cancer. Carcinogenesis, 5(11): 1381-1393.
  3. De la Monte, S.M. & Tong, M. (2009) Mechanisms of Nitrosamine-Mediated Neurodegeneration: Potential Relevance to Sporadic Alzheimer’s Disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 17(4): 817-825).