When It Comes To Fruits and Vegetables: Here’s Why I’m “Pro-Choice”

When It Comes To Fruits and Vegetables: Here’s Why I’m “Pro-Choice”

This post was sponsored by The Alliance for Food and Farming. All opinions are my own. 

There is so much confusion and misinformation surrounding produce, especially when it comes to organic verses conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. That is why I have dubbed myself the “pro- choice” dietitian because after gathering all the information, it’s ultimately your choice. I recently attended the fourth annual “Facts, Not Fear” Produce Safety Media Tour sponsored by The Alliance for Food and Farming where I visited pear, cherry, apple and blueberry farms in the Hood River and Beaverton, Oregon areas. The information and farming practices I saw strengthened much of the information that I have been talking about for over a decade—which you can read more about below.

Why I’m “Pro-Choice”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 1 in 10 Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables each day. That’s why I support doing what’s best for you and your family and purchasing organic, conventional, ugly or local produce at the store. Adding more fruits and vegetables every day promotes better health and a longer life. For example, if half of all Americans added one more serving of fruits and veggies in their daily diet, 20,000 cancer cases could be prevented annually.

In addition, two new studies focusing on brain and heart health also showcase the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables daily. The New York Times recently discussed a new large study that found flavonoids may help curb the mild confusion and forgetfulness associated with advanced aging, and that sometimes can precede dementia. Due to the fact that the study was one of the largest of such analyses to date and it was a long duration, it’s part of growing evidence that what we eat can affect brain health.  A second study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association followed close to 5,000 adults ages 18 to 30, for approximately 32 years. Researchers found that those whose diets regularly included nutritionally rich plant foods and fewest unhealthy animal products (like high fat meats) were least likely to develop heart disease.

What About Pesticides in Produce?

There’s a lot of misinformation and fear about pesticides in conventional produce. However, toxicology studies and government sampling data show an impressive safety record.  Sampling programs conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Federal Food and Drug Administration confirms the safety of all produce with over 99 percent of samples tested showing residues well below tolerances established by the Environmental Protection Agency, if residues were present at all. In addition, an analysis by toxicologists with the University of California Personal Chemical Exposure Program found a child could eat hundreds to thousands of servings of a fruit or vegetable in a day and still not have any effects from residues.  This showcases how low pesticide residues are, if residues are even present at all.

The Alliance for Food and Farming created a “Pesticide Residue Calculator” where you can determine based on gender and age (adult verses child) how many servings of a fruit or vegetable you would have to eat to get some, if any, residue. For example, a woman could consume 13,225 servings of blueberries in one day without any effect even if the blueberries have the highest pesticide residue recorded for blueberries by the USDA.

And if you thought that substituting organic forms of fruits and vegetables for conventional forms is “better” or “safer,” a peer reviewed study found that it did not result in any decrease in risk for consumers because pesticide residues on conventionally grown produce are so minimal, if present at all.

What Do Other Dietitians Say?

In 2019, the Alliance for Food and Farming fielded a survey with the objective to better understand the challenges faced by registered dietitians (RDs) to increase the daily consumption of fruits and vegetables of their clients and consumers.  Four points of agreement among RDs who took the survey included:

  • It is important that consumers know that conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables are safe to eat because not all consumers feel they can afford organically-grown produce. (95% agreement)
  • Fear-based messaging regarding pesticide residues has a negative impact on consumers because it causes concerns about whether conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables are safe to eat. (94% agreement)
  • Consumers should eat more fruits and vegetables every day, whether it’s organic or conventionally-grown. Both are safe and can be eaten with confidence. (93% agreement)
  • Activist messaging about pesticide residues has the most negative impact on lower-income consumers who may or may not be able to afford organic fruits and vegetables. (76% agreement)

My Recommendation

Follow the guidance of health experts and research who recommend eating more—organic, conventional, ugly, or local– fruits and vegetables each day. Buy whatever works best for you that’s affordable and accessible and feel proud that you’re including more fruits and vegetable in your family’s diet.