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Triple play: ‘Pro-choice nutritionist’ calls out produce guides

Opinion

Editor’s note: This opinion contribution by Toby Amidor is part of a three-piece presentation today by Food Safety News. To read views on the same topic from the Environmental Working Group and the Alliance for Food and Farming, please refer to the links at the bottom of this column.

As a nutritional professional, I am frequently asked questions regarding purchasing organic or conventional fruits and vegetables.  I am also asked about the use of “shoppers’ guides” produced and promoted by consumer and environmental groups that advise on which produce to buy organic due to residue concerns.

My response is that I am a “Pro-Choice” shopping advocate, which is why I am not a fan of produce “shoppers’ guides.”  Whether you purchase organic, conventional, ugly or local, buy your produce at a grocery store, food cooperative, online or a farmer’s market, I support doing whatever works best for you and your family. I just advise consumers to eat more fruits and veggies every day for better health and a longer life because it is my job to promote a nourishing, well balanced diet.

These “shoppers’ guides” are a disservice to consumers and confusing because they are not based upon sound science and are often in direct conflict. A quick review shows one guide advises consumers to buy only organic of a certain produce item due to supposed safety concerns, while another guide recommends making the exact opposite purchasing decision.  What is a consumer to do?   

More importantly, peer reviewed studies are showing these “shoppers’ guides” may be negatively impacting the produce purchasing habits of low income consumers.  Researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s (IIT) Center for Nutrition Research surveyed low income consumers to learn more about what terms and information about fruits and vegetables may influence their shopping intentions.

Among the key findings, misleading messaging which inaccurately describes certain fruits and vegetables as having “higher” pesticide residues results in low income shoppers reporting that they would be less likely to purchase any fruits and vegetables – organic or conventional. There is a plethora of research which shows eating any form of fruit and vegetables provides more health benefits than skipping them altogether.

In addition to the negative impact on consumers, these guides are not based upon sound science. One peer reviewed study found that substituting organic forms of fruits and veggies for conventional forms, as these shoppers’ guides advise, did not result in any decrease in risk for consumers because pesticide residues on conventionally grown are so minute, if present at all. 

Further 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.

While one produce guide is being promoted to consumers now, an environmental group will release a conflicting shoppers’ guide in a few short weeks.  My advice to consumers is avoid “guide” confusion and follow the “guidance” of health experts, as well as the research, that recommend eating more organic, conventional, ugly or local fruits and veggies each day. 

Buy what works best for you that is affordable and accessible and feel proud that you’re feeding yourself and your family delicious produce. The only produce shopping list or guide that matters is the one you write for yourself.  

Please also see: Triple play: EWG posts ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of fresh produce items

Please also see: Triple play: AFF says rest easy and eat your veggies and fruits

About the author: Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN,  is an adjunct professor at Teachers College, Columbia University and Hunter College School of Urban Public Health. She is a nutrition expert for FoodNetwork.com, writing for their Healthy Eats Blog; a regular contributor to U.S. News and World Report Eat + Run blog; and has a monthly column in Today’s Dietitian Magazine. Amidor self identifies as a pro-choice nutritionist and says healthy and wholesome can also be appetizing and delicious.

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