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Should I be Eating Only Organic Fruits and Vegetables?

by Dana Ingoglia, RD, CSO, LDN Oncology Dietitian

Research has not shown organic produce to be nutritionally superior to conventionally grown (non-organic) produce. There are no human studies that show organic foods are better than non-organic foods for reducing cancer risk, reducing the risk of cancer recurrence or reducing the risk of cancer progression. If the harm of the pesticides outweighed the benefits of the food, you would not see the consistent disease-protective effects of fruits and vegetables.

The term "certified organic" by the USDA requires farmers to use only government-approved, plant-based chemicals; pesticides and herbicides are prohibited. Farmers must also use land that has been free of pesticides and herbicides for several years. The land must be open to inspection by USDA officials and may include testing of soil, water, and plant tissues to verify its certified organic status.

Worth noting, however is that organic foods may be exposed to chemicals carried in the wind or water. Whether eating organic or non-organic produce, consumers should decrease pesticide residue by scrubbing fruits and vegetables with a fruit and vegetable rinse, removing outer leaves and choosing produce free of holes. Pesticides, waxes and chemicals used in crop production are designed to resist insects and rain which make these contaminants difficult to remove with water alone.

All produce should be washed thoroughly, even types for which the outside rind or peel is not eaten, as a knife slicing through the item could introduce bacteria or other microbial contaminants onto the edible part. This is especially important if you are immune-suppressed. The key to selecting a good wash is to check the ingredient list. Don’t use chemicals to clean chemicals. The cleverly named ‘Fruit and Vegetable Wash’ by Environné, is an excellent fruit and vegetable wash.

Environmental Working Group (EWG), a consumer-based group based in Washington DC analyzed FDA pesticide inspection records from 1992 and 1993 to rate 42 fruit and vegetables. They found the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables to be: strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, U.S. cherries, peaches, Mexican cantaloupe, celery, apples, apricots, green beans, Chilean grapes and cucumbers. The website (www. ewg.org) includes a guide to pesticides. It lists produce that contain fewer pesticides but comparable amounts of nutrients. For example, strawberries have a high concentration of pesticides, so consider buying organic or substituting non-organic raspberries or blueberries which provide similar nutrients with much less contamination.

Whether you choose to consume only organic fruits and vegetables is ultimately a personal decision. Organic produce is more expensive and can be a deterrent to consume the recommended five to nine servings per day. A great alternative may be to buy local produce from farmers you know and trust. Consider checking out a local farmer that participates in community supported agriculture at www.knowyourfarms.com

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