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Chemicals used in Fruits & Vegetables

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Synthetic chemicals in our food chain have become an unavoidable reality. We can not remove them 100% no matter what we do. But we can definitely decrease the quantity of chemicals in our food by adopting organic food and minimizing any processed food.

In this post, we will take a look at what different kinds of chemicals are used in our food.

Ripening Agents

Ripening agents are used to ripen fruits or vegetables artificially. Unripen fruits or vegetables are harvested, transported, and then ripened artificially with the following chemicals.

  • Calcium Carbide [CaC2]
  • Ethylene gas

Coating Agents

Coating agents are used to transport fruits and vegetables intact. Coating agents are used to preserve the moisture and consistency of fruits so that they look fresh for longer.

  • Wax
  • Diphenylamine (DPA)

Production Chemicals

And then there are production chemicals which are used for growing fruits & vegetables. These are also known as systemic chemicals i.e. they can enter the body of the plant and remain there. So any amount of cleaning or washing will not remove these chemicals.

  • Fertilizers
  • Herbicides
  • Insecticides
  • Fungicides

GRAS Chemicals

One of the most interesting secrets of the chemical industry is that most of the chemicals used in the food industry are self-certified as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS)

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) allows industry to

  • Self-certify chemicals as safe without any safety studies & regulated by FDA. This is the case for the USA, imagine what would be happening in India.
  • The majority of the chemicals barring a dozen out of 10,000 are used in our food (processed and unprocessed) are not safety reviewed and trust me the safety reviews are manipulated left and right.

There are six chemicals that are generally recognized as safe: 

  1. Nitrates:  • Help preserve meat  • Increase shelf life  • Increase the risk of cancer  • Could be in your drinking water.
  2. BHA: • A preservative  • An endocrine disruptor  • A carcinogen
  3. BHT:  • A preservative  • An endocrine disruptor  • Toxic to the liver and kidneys  • Increases cancer risk
  4. Potassium bromide:  • A dough conditioner used in many flour products  • A carcinogen  • Can inhibit iodine
  5. Brominated vegetable oil: • A flavor stabilizer in beverages  • A flame retardant  • Can harm the nervous system and brain  • Can affect your memory  • Can interfere with iodine
  6. Titanium dioxide:  • Gives candy a smooth texture and brightens colors  • Can cause DNA damage  • Increases cancer risk  • A heavy metal

How to save yourself from these chemicals?

Well, the best solution is to buy organic produce. But it is quite expensive so you can apply following principles which can help you guide away from the chemical foods:

  • Buy Regional & Seasonal
  • Try to buy from farms directly so that no surface chemicals are applied.
  • Understand the difference between Climacteric fruits and Non-Climacteric fruits. Though it will not save you 100% but can help in minimizing the chemicals.

Climacteric Fruits

Climacteric fruits are the ones that can ripen after harvesting. Some of their characteristics are:

  • Characterized by an increased rate of respiration
  • Rich in starch & harvesting is done at maturity.

Examples of such fruits are:

  • Mango
  • Banana
  • Papaya
  • Guava
  • Sapota
  • Datepalm
  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Peach
  • Plum
  • Apricot
  • Avocado

Non Climetric fruits

Fruits that do not ripen after harvesting. They should be harvested only after ripening. So there are no chemicals used at least for the ripening of these fruits. Though transport chemicals are applied. Some of the characteristics of these fruits are:

  • They are poor in starch. So most of the citrus fruits. e.g. Citrus, Grape, Pineapple, Jamun, Strawberry

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