National Fruits & Veggies Month (September), is over, but the need to eat more F & V continues. The CDC says only 1 in 10 people get enough fruits and veggies of ANY kind.
Fact: Fruits & Veggies Are THAT Important
A 2020 comprehensive review of the science concluded, “The scientific evidence for providing public health recommendations to increase fruits and vegetables consumption for prevention of disease is strong… Fruits and vegetables provide benefits beyond helping to achieve basic nutrient requirements in humans.”
We’re all notoriously resistant to making diet and lifestyle changes. Recent consumer research found we’d rather take pills thank change our diet and lifestyle!
We still question if anything but organic produce is even worth eating. Organic produce has a “halo” that causes many to see it as better. Is it? Read on.
Q: Latest Research: Organic vs. Conventional Fruits & Veggies, Which Are Healthier?
A: Both! And that’s not a “diplomatic” answer. The science is there. This 2022 review went into the weeds and found that it really depends on which fruits and vegetables are studied. Sometimes organic produce is higher in some nutrients, other times conventional produce is higher. Still other times, there was no difference at all.
There’s even variation within varieties of a fruit or vegetable. In one variety of strawberries, the organic one had more vitamin C. In another variety, the conventionally one had more.
The authors acknowledged that small differences in nutrient content sometimes existed between organic and conventionally produced foods, but, “whereas these differences in content are biologically plausible, they are unlikely to be of public health relevance.”
This reinforces the results of a 2009 analysis of 46 studies, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, that found no substantial differences between organic and conventionally produced foodstuffs.
Something I’ve said for YEARS:
“All the research documenting the health and nutrition benefits of eating fruits and vegetables – in any form, fresh, cooked, dried, frozen, and canned – was done using conventionally grown produce.”
Q: What Makes It “Organic”?
A: One of the most common questions I hear! The basic definition from USDA:
“Produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest.”
Most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are prohibited, but over 200 pesticides ARE approved for use in growing organic produce. There can even be instances when a synthetic pesticide can be used, if a grower has a very difficult pest.
Q: “What are the healthiest fruits and vegetables?”
A: The ones you’ll eat. Full stop. They’re only nutritious when they’re eaten. You don’t need to be a registered dietitian for this. You need a grocery list. Eat as many as you can and eat as many colors.
Canned-dried-frozen? All fine! Let go of trends towards fresh or away from “processed” fruits and vegetables. They’re nutritious, often more budget-friendly, plus they’re versatile and shelf-stable. My pantry ALWAYS has various canned beans and tomato products.
Q: “How Much Do I Have To Eat?”
A: The CDC recommends 1½-2 cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables daily, as fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. And 100% fruit juice counts too. You can eat more fruits and veggies than recommended (count me in that group!) but keep juice to 4-8-oz. daily, so you get more fiber.
Q: “Still, isn’t organic better for the planet?”
A: Not necessarily. Why? The 2022 review noted above cited studies that found organic farming had a lower environmental impact per acre, but the lower yield per acre required many more acres to produce an equivalent amount of conventionally grown produce.
Q: “Why are organic fruits and vegetables so much more expensive?”
A: Some of it is just plain marketing. If organic is perceived as “premium”, people will pay more for it. Additional reasons for the higher cost of organic produce:
- Yield-per-acre is lower, so it takes more land to produce the same amount of food.
- Losses are greater on organic farms, because they are limited in what they can use to control pests, fungus, bacterial contamination, etc. There are also fewer tools for post-harvest disease control.
- Organic crops may require more applications of allowed pesticides. That means more labor, fuel, time, etc. That adds up.
Some people may also prefer the taste of one over the other.
An irony: GMO crops are often bred to resist pests. They’re not organic, but they nearly always require fewer pesticide applications than conventional crops. Get some practical answers to FAQs about GMOs at GMOAnswers.com. You may be surprised – maybe even amazed.
Q: “Dr. Keith, do YOU buy organic fruits and vegetables?”
A: Occasionally, but only if they’re comparably priced. But that’s me. Buy the ones you can afford and that your family will eat. It’s that important. Period. And buy less junk, too, so fruit is an appealing snack.