The other day, I visited my doctor for an annual check-up. Knowing that my stress level is high because I’m chasing after a toddler at home, he reminded me to get plenty of sleep, take a few days off from work this summer and eat strawberries.
Okay, so he didn’t specifically tell me to eat strawberries. But he did recommend that I eat healthy foods, and strawberries are a favorite of mine, especially this time of year when berries are in season and less expensive.
Admittedly, I struggle to get the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. And I’m not alone. Iowa ranks last in the nation in per-capita fruit and vegetable consumption, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index used to measure Iowa’s success in the Healthiest State Initiative.
But like a lot of grocery shoppers, I see conflicting information in the news and online about the safety of strawberries and other fruits and vegetables I like to buy.
The Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list seems to make the news rounds this time of year. In its list, the EWG targets strawberries as the number one “dirtiest” fruit, supposedly because of scary-sounding pesticide residues. Not surprisingly, the EWG, which is funded by organic food companies, recommends buying only organic strawberries. However, scientists have repeatedly discredited the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list for misleading consumers by manipulating U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) pesticide sampling data to make its argument for buying organic.
In fact, the USDA’s pesticide data program - not the “Dirty Dozen” list - is considered the gold-standard in testing for produce safety. Each year, the USDA randomly tests hundreds of produce samples from retail stores, using sophisticated testing that can detect pesticides at parts per billion, to ensure the safety of our food supply.
In 2015, the most recent data available, the USDA found that pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables tested were at levels well below tolerances and pose no safety concerns.
Surprisingly, a child like my daughter could eat 181 servings of strawberries a day without any effect, even if the strawberries have the highest pesticide residue recorded for strawberries by the USDA, according to the online pesticide calculator at www.safefruitsandveggies.com.
And to be honest, I’m struggling to get her to eat one strawberry, let alone 181 of them, in a given day.
The EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list might seem harmless. It’s just clever marketers trying to get you to buy their product, right?
Unfortunately, this scare-mongering has a downside. A recent study found that fear-based marketing tactics against non-organic produce make low-income shoppers less likely to purchase any fruits and vegetables – whether organically or non-organically grown.
Again, it’s important to stress that only one in 10 Americans actually eats the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Major health organizations, including the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association, recommend eating more fruits and vegetables for disease prevention. If you’re a mom on a budget like me (this week, organic strawberries were $3.99 at my local grocery store compared $1.49 for non-organic strawberries), it’s okay to choose the conventionally grown strawberries at the grocery store.
Just remember, it’s important to wash all fruits and vegetables, including strawberries, before eating to protect against any potential bacteria that could cause food-borne illness. However, there’s nothing “dirty” or unhealthy about strawberries or any other fresh, frozen or canned produce. In reality, all strawberries are nutritional powerhouses, providing fiber, vitamin C and heart-healthy antioxidants.
When it comes to our health, more fruits and veggies is better – whatever your budget or personal preference.
By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's senior features writer.