It seems like almost everyone eats more fruits and vegetables during the spring and summer, and that’s a great thing. All fruits and vegetables are good sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and disease fighting antioxidants, and they’re so much fresher and readily available all summer. Research studies overwhelmingly agree that individuals who eat more of a plant-based diet have a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes, so eat up! When it comes to produce, there are two questions that I am frequently asked. The first is – Which are the healthiest fruits and vegetables, and the second question is – Should I buy organic?
The answer to the first question is easy. Although I do have my personal favorites (berries are my favorite antioxidant rich favorite fruits, and in the vegetable category it’s anything orange or cruciferous), I always tell clients that it’s more important to aim for variety, and prepare them in different ways. All fruits and vegetables contain different nutrients which offer different health benefits, so if you’re worrying about picking the one or two best, you’ll be missing out on what all the rest have to offer. Some provide vitamins or minerals that work better when eaten with other foods, while others have nutrients that are more easily absorbed when they’re eaten cooked vs raw or vice versa. The point is, mix and match them, pair them with different foods, and eat them both raw and cooked. Your body will take what it needs from each meal.
[box] Tip! If you aim for at least five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables each day, you’ll cover all your bases. Keep in mind; a serving is about ½ cup cooked, or 1 cup raw. If you’re watching your weight, note that a serving of most vegetables has about 25 calories, whereas a serving of fruit averages about 60 calories, and a serving of starchy vegetables like potato, sweet potato, corn, peas, or winter squash, has about 80 calories. [/box]
The answer to the organic question is not as cut and dry for everyone. The word organic refers to how farmers grow, raise, and process food – without the use of synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or irradiation. The USDA organic seal indicates that the product contains at least 95 percent organic content. In addition, all organic farmers, processors and traders are strictly regulated and regularly audited by the USDA.
Most research indicates that while both organic and conventional produce are fairly comparable in their nutrient content, organically grown fruits and vegetables come out ahead because they contain significantly less pesticide residues. Another major plus is that organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment. The downside is that organic foods are expensive to grow and produce, and therefore cost more. Also, organic fruits and vegetables aren’t treated with waxes or preservatives, and may spoil faster.
So my advice regarding buying organic is, if you can afford it, and it’s accessible, purchasing organic food is definitely a great step toward minimizing your exposure to pesticides, and protecting the environment. Summer is the perfect time to seek out organic produce because seasonal produce is always less expensive, and there are farmer’s markets everywhere (many of which carry organic produce), which certainly makes it so much more accessible.
If cost is an issue or you want to be selective about which produce is better to buy organic, check out this list of The Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen from Environmental Working Group. They monitor and publish a list of the produce that consistently has the most and least pesticide residue.
Whether you choose to buy organic or not, it’s important to remember that the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables far outweigh the risk of pesticide exposure. Eating conventionally grown produce is definitely better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all, so fill up each plate and keep cut up fruits and veggies nearby for snacking. If you need a meal plan to help pull it together, check out my previous post on the DASH diet plan.