By Colleen Trupkin, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s
Many of us start the new year with a goal of eating healthier, but sometimes it’s hard to know what that means. Eating more fruits and vegetables is often a good place to start, but a common question is whether organic fruits and vegetables are a better choice.
For starters, it helps to understand what the label “organic” means in the U.S. For fruits and vegetables to be labeled as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), it means that items cannot be genetically-engineered and no man-made fertilizers or pesticides may be used in the growing process. While people often think of organic produce as having no pesticide residue, this may actually not be the case. Organic produce may still have pesticide residue from the environment or processing facilities, but there is no need to panic! The USDA Pesticide Data Program has been monitoring our food supply since 1991 to ensure safety. While pesticide residue may be found in both traditionally and organically-grown produce, levels are very low — well below the already low threshold set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for pesticide residue.
It is important to remember that whether you choose to buy organic or conventional food items, it is the quality and variety of your diet that is most important. Eating fruits and vegetables is an important part of a healthy diet, but only one in 10 Americans consume the recommended amounts. Eat a rainbow of color and variety of produce to get the most health benefits and aim for at least five servings per day, regardless of whether that produce is organic or traditionally grown. Don’t forget to wash all fresh produce before cooking or eating; it is dirty until washed!
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also recommends several tips for reducing pesticide residues and preventing foodborne illness from any produce:
- Always wash your hands for 15-20 seconds with soap and warm water before handling produce.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating.
- It is important to wash items before you peel or cut them to ensure residue from the outside is not transferred to the portion you will be eating.
- Use a brush for heartier vegetables such as potatoes or carrots, especially if you will be eating the skin.
- Throw out the outer leaves of leafy vegetables, such as the outer leaves from a head of lettuce.
Whether you choose to buy organic foods is a personal decision. At this time, there is not conclusive scientific evidence that shows that organically grown produce is necessarily healthier. However, if you choose to go that route, consider organic options for items without a protective skin to scrub or peel. Most importantly, kick off the new year with a resolution to get “Five a day” of fruits and vegetables from all colors of the rainbow!
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