I admit I’m a unicorn who actually enjoys going to the gym and exercising for fun. And in the magical fairyland of fitness, I often overhear strange health and nutrition advice.

Recently, I met another gymgoer who told me she was a certified toxin educator and sells nontoxic beauty and bath products. She claimed that there are toxins in the common cosmetics and cleaning supplies we all buy. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure what made her soaps and bath bombs “nontoxic,” but they were lovely and smelled great.

As a mom myself, I can relate to her good intentions. I certainly obsess over buying the safest car seat and the highest-fiber snacks.

However, it also makes me uncomfortable when people try to make money off our fears, especially over a basic human need like safe, nutritious food.

Recently, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an activist group known for scaring parents with its “safe” sunscreen list, launched a new marketing campaign. The EWG claimed its own testing found traces of an agricultural chemical in oats that’s linked to infertility.

However, experts say we shouldn’t let publicity stunts or worries about “toxins” stop us from enjoying our favorite healthy foods, including whole-grain oats.

It turns out, the chemical levels the EWG claims to have found are extremely small, in parts per billion, and are well below safe levels established by federal agencies, says Joel Coats, a toxicologist and emeritus professor of entomology at Iowa State University.

To put it in perspective, one part per billion is comparable to one drop of water in an Olympic size swimming pool.

“I have high confidence that there’s nothing in oats or your Cheerios that’s at a toxic level,” Coats says. “It’s such a healthy food for you. It’s not something you want people to be scared of.”

Scientists also understand that claiming something is “linked to” doesn’t make it true, Coats says. Correlation doesn’t equal causation.

“Saying it’s ‘linked to’ doesn’t mean anything except you put them in the same sentence,” Coats says. “So I don’t take that statement as serious when you can link anything to anything else.”

In reality, all crop protection products, including pesticides, must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are rigorously tested to prove their safety to human health and the environment.

Coats says federal agencies also have strict restrictions and monitoring in place to ensure that our food is safe from chemicals, including pesticides and contaminants.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) pesticide monitoring program, which tests for 700 different pesticide residues, is considered the “gold standard” for testing by scientists worldwide.

In fiscal year 2022, the FDA found that 99% of domestic foods tested were well below the safe level for pesticides residues.

In the very rare case that a food product tests above FDA’s safe limit for pesticide residues, the food is recalled and removed from the food supply.

“I don’t have any hesitation to buy any foods for me or my family because of concerns about pesticides,” Coats says.

If reducing your exposure to trace amounts of pesticides is important to you, then organic foods may be an option, Coats says.

Organic doesn’t mean pesticide-free, however. Organic farmers can use natural pesticides that are approved by federal guidelines for organic food production.

One drawback of organic foods is that they are more expensive than conventionally grown foods, Coats notes. And research confirms that organic foods and conventional foods are equally safe and nutritious.

So it all comes down to consumer choice, Coats says.

“If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, you probably aren’t getting an advantage if you are going organic. If you want to eat healthier, than conventional (non-organic food) is a good choice,” Coats says.

Remember, just because you see something online – or at the gym - doesn’t mean it’s an expert source or a scientific fact. Do your own research, find out who funded the research, and look at the sample size.

If you have food or farming questions, ask a farmer or visit RealFarmersRealFoodRealMeat.com. Farmers want to answer your questions and love to talk about what they do.

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