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Studies show that the amount of pesticides found on conventional produce is very small and lower today than in the past. Getty Images
  • In a recent survey, 94 percent of dietitians said fear-based messaging around pesticides on produce can be a barrier to eating enough fruits and vegetables.
  • Pesticide residue on conventional and organic produce is found in tiny, low-risk amounts that are not linked to any negative health effects.
  • Consumers should focus on eating the variety of fruits and vegetables available to them, as most Americans don’t eat the recommended amount.

Are you eating enough fruits and vegetables daily?

If your diet looks like most Americans’, the answer is no. Even though fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients our bodies love, 87 percent of Americans don’t eat the daily recommended amount of vegetables and 76 percent don’t eat enough fruit.

While everything from eating meals on-the-go to food deserts can make it difficult to eat the rainbow of fruits and veggies, a recent survey points to another potential barrier to consumers: fear about pesticides on produce.

According to the small survey of registered dietitians (RDs) from the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF), 94 percent of dietitians think fear-based messaging around pesticides on produce leads to excessive concern about whether conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are safe to eat.

“On average, Americans don’t come close to meeting [produce intake] recommendations in the first place, and adding an additional barrier brings us further away from the target: eating a healthful, balanced diet,” said Tamika Sims, PhD, Director of Food Technology Communications at the International Food Information Council.

Campaigns that promote organic produce as lower in pesticides may also contribute to less overall consumption of fruits and vegetables, since many people lack access or funds to purchase only organic produce.

That can lead people to giving up on eating a plentiful amount of produce altogether, just as nutritionists thought.

“Many people may worry about eating produce that isn’t organically farmed and ultimately eat less of it over the long run if organic produce isn’t readily accessible,” said Crystal Karges, RDN at Crystal Karges Nutrition.

Karges often fields questions from clients about pesticides and the safety of conventional produce.

“Feeling stress or fear around certain foods or farming practices takes the joy away from eating and can potentially prevent people from consuming foods that would be beneficial to their diet,” Karges told Healthline.

The short answer: no. Especially if this fear causes you to eat less fruits and vegetables.

But some experts do see a benefit to eating organic produce.

“Potential residues on either conventional or organic produce are in [tiny] amounts that are not linked to any adverse health effects. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service has issued reports confirming that overall pesticide chemical residues found on foods are at levels below the tolerances established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and do not pose a safety concern,” Sims stated.

Mary Ellen Camire, PhD, professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine, agrees that there is no reason to worry about the low-risk levels of pesticides found on produce.

According to Camire, studies show that the amount of pesticides found on conventional produce is very small and lower today than in the past. She also noted that microbial pathogens — bacteria and viruses — on produce should be a bigger concern to consumers than pesticides.

Still, Camire isn’t saying conventional and organic produce are created equal.

“There are some pesticides allowed in organic farming, but they’re more naturally based. They are not the [chemical-based] ones people are worried about,” Camire explained. This typically leads to healthier produce with a higher amount of beneficial antioxidants.

The produce might be healthier but scientific studies haven’t confirmed that there’s a significant — or any — advantage to avoiding pesticides by eating organic.

Many studies have demonstrated that organic produce does not have a nutritional advantage over conventional produce, and organic produce is not associated with better health outcomes,” Sims told Healthline.

Overall, consumers should think more about eating the wide variety of fruits and vegetables available to them, and less about the low-risk levels of pesticide residue.

Some nutrition experts do feel passionately about avoiding chemical-based pesticides. Jayne Williams, a certified holistic health counselor, has noticed an increased inflammatory response and microbiome health issues in patients, which she attributes partially to pesticide residue.

1. Integrate local and organic produce into your diet, but remember it’s not all or nothing

Williams encourages people to eat as much organic food as possible. For people who choose non-organic, she recommends choosing a thicker skin food, like avocados or bananas.

“It’s important to remember that shopping for and buying produce doesn’t have to be a black-and-white thing. I think some families think that eating organic foods means that all their food should be organic, and this isn’t necessarily realistic for many,” Karges pointed out.

You can also head to the farmers’ market for local, in-season produce.

2. Wash your produce

“I encourage the clients I work with to spend some time cleaning and storing produce for safer handling and processing once brought home,” Karges said.

Rub fruits and vegetables with your hands and cold water. Or make a simple produce wash by adding some baking soda or white vinegar to a large bowl of cold water.

3. Grow a few vegetables at home

“If people are concerned [about pesticides], you can even grow some vegetables at home. It allows you to take more control of your food supply if you have a little space,” recommended Camire.

She grows lettuce in window boxes and herbs on her indoor kitchen window sill. Choosing a few easy-to-grow vegetables can make reaching for greens or spicing up a meal as simple as opening your window.