Nutrition: How does your produce grow?


Shopping for fruits and vegetables used to be simple.
The variety of produce on your grocer’s shelf depended
on the season and you made your choices accordingly.
But nowadays, there’s a vast array of imports to choose
from, regardless of the time of year. Do you buy local to
reduce your carbon footprint, or do you take advantage of
global offerings and increase your vitamin and nutrient
intake? Then there’s the question of organic produce versus
conventionally farmed produce to consider. Small wonder
you may be confused about the best options for your family.

Is organic produce
healthier?

Many thought this question
was finally put to rest
when Stanford University
scientists published studies
comparing the nutritional
value of organic versus
non-organic produce.
Media reports emphasized
that both types of produce
offered similar amounts
of vitamins and minerals.
However, many experts criticized the review
because the data should
have measured produce
grown in similar locations,
as this can affect nutrient
content. This was the case
in about half of the studies
included in the review.

Also left out of many
discussions was the
phytochemical content
(phyto meaning plant).
Phytochemicals act
as antioxidants and disease-fighters. These
compounds, mainly known
as polyphenols, are plants’
natural defense system to
fight off assaults from pests
or disease. Plants grown
using pesticides don’t
contain the same level of
these substances.

Another concern
expressed is the issue of
pesticide residues. While
pesticides may be found
in both conventional and
organic produce (due
to cross-contamination
in the fields), levels
are significantly lower
in organic fruits and
vegetables. For produce
to be labelled “organic”
in Canada, it must be
grown without the use of
synthetic pesticides (such
as defoliants, desiccants,
fungicides, insecticides
and rodenticides), wood
preservatives or other nonpermitted
pesticides. There
are several certification
bodies working in Canada,
approved by the Canada
Food Inspection Agency.

Pesticide residues are
particularly troubling
when it comes to children.
Their lower bodyweights result in a higher
concentration of pesticides
per pound compared to
adults. The American
Academy of Pediatrics
concluded that the most
important consideration
is that children should
eat a variety of fruits and
vegetables. Concerns
about pesticide residue
should not overshadow
this. Diversifying your
family’s produce repertoire
will help maximize your
nutrient variety, and help
minimize the amount of
different compounds that
you want to avoid. For
example, if your child eats strawberries everyday, a
fruit that may have high
pesticide residues, then opt
for organic some or all of
the time, or go for a mix of
other fruits.

But here’s a positive note:
the organic movement
has led to a significant
reduction in the amount
of pesticides being used
in conventional farming
today. And in some cases,
farmers using conventional
methods have adopted
some practices used by
organic growers.

Wash this produce diligently

Based on a new analysis of government data by the Organic
Center, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, these fruits
and veggies are the most likely to have pesticide residues.

Fruits:

  • Cranberries
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Cherries
  • Cantaloupe*

Vegetables:

  • Green beans
  • Bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Peas
  • Lettuce

(*residue on the rind can transfer
from the knife to the flesh)

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2013.

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