As a kid I waited impatiently for summer. The main reason? The huge variety of fruits. People think I love fruit because I’m a registered dietitian/nutritionist, but I’ve always been this way. As a kid,
I remember going berry-picking near the weekend place we had as a kid, in this secluded canyon an hour south of San Francisco. The blackberries were so sweet in the warm sun that I’d happily get scratched by the bush’s thorns just to reach the branches with the biggest berries. About half of what I picked didn’t make it home — I ate ‘em on the spot. Yes, I should have washed them and no, I didn’t. They were wild, but had plenty of dust and dirt. I lived through it.
As an adult, my produce passion has only expanded. I never met a grilled, roasted, or even steamed veggie I didn’t like (unless it was overcooked!)
Less is not more
The diet histories I take on all my patients show one constant: a lack of fruits and vegetables. They’re like most Americans, too, according to the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines. Produce is a powerhouse of nutrients – and taste! There’s just no substitute nutritionally, so why deprive ourselves?.
What’s the barrier to eating more produce? Check these frequent comments from patients:
- “They have so many pesticides and organic stuff is too expensive.’
- “I buy them but nobody eats them so it’s money down the drain.”
- Fresh is too expensive and frozen and canned don’t have any nutrition left in them.”
A 2016 survey that looked at the attitudes of low-income consumers about organic vs. conventionally grown produce. If they’d heard about pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables they were more likely to avoid buying them. They’re definitely misinformed, because their fear is unfounded. Conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables are quite safe to eat. Let’s look at why that’s so.
Pesticides 101: Testing, testing…
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires all pesticides to undergo hundreds of health, safety, and environmental tests before they’re approved. They also establish a safe “reference dose”, or RfD level. To do this, they first establish the maximum amount of the pesticide that, if consumed daily for the rest of one’s life, would cause no harm. They make the RfD is then 1/1000th of that maximum safe dose. That means that even if you got 1000 times the RfD, every day, you’d still be fine.
Then there’s verification. The Pesticide Data Program (PDP) maintains the world’s most thorough database of pesticide residues. It annually tests domestically-grown and imported produce. Over the 20 years of testing that the PDP has done, over 99% of crops have tested below RfD levels. The vast majority of produce has tested ridiculously low, in fact, often 1/10,000th of acceptable levels – which already have a 1000-fold cushion in them.
Carolyn O’Neil, registered dietitian, veteran food & nutrition reporter, author of The Slim Down South cookbook, says, “I have absolute confidence that choosing conventionally grown produce is doing only good things for you and your family.” She doesn’t believe we have choose between organic or conventional produce. “Conventionally grown crops are regularly and systemically tested for pesticide residue to ensure that what goes from farm to table is safe to eat. The proper use of pesticides, in both organic and conventionally grown crops, is the expertise of farmers who want to put safest and most nutritious foods on our tables.”
Keep in mind that virtually ALL of the vast research showing huge benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables was done on conventional, not organic, produce. Avoiding fruits and vegetables just because you can’t afford organic is unnecessary and puts you at risk. It’s all good. Buy the produce you can afford and will eat (I’m never without canned garbanzos). Everyone eats more fruit if there are fewer “competing foods” around, like cookies and cake.
Organic or conventional, wash all fresh fruits and veggies. I took a risk as a kid by eating some dirt and dust on those berries without washing them!
Strong safeguards ensure our food supply is the safest you’ll find anywhere. Our fruits and vegetables are healthy even if they didn’t come from our own yard.
I work with kids and families. Their safety and food budgets are important. I eat conventionally grown produce daily, organic if it’s a good buy. Eat the ones you enjoy and eat them every day.