Fruit and Veg: The Dilemma

So, it’s been in the news. We need to eat ten portions of fruit and veg everyday (BBC). That sounds like a lot. Yet, as shown in the Homemade blogs this month it is possible for us to eat that many a day if we switch to a bit of mindful eating. Yet, is eating this amount of fruit and veg really that great for us? There are some definite issues with fruit and veg.

Organic or not organic? A debate that has been raging for a long time. I think if we lived in an ideal world the majority of us would be eating organic food all the time. However, have you seen those price tags? It’s certainly not cheap. Yet, a study has been conducted and shown that organic fruit and veg is likely to have “between 19% and 69%” more antioxidants than its non organic equal which is equivalent to “one to two of the five portions of fruits and vegetables recommended to be consumed daily” (The Guardian). These antioxidants have been linked to a reduced risk in chronic diseases such as cancer. With every study, there has been criticism towards it. Yet, it brings another debate alongside “organic doesn’t have pesticides” which is obviously important to consider. However, the overriding advice is that non organic fruit and veg is better than no fruit and veg at all. Here’s a supposed list of fruit and veg to always to buy organic and those which you can buy not organic according to chemical contamination.

Dirty dozen: apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, bell peppers, nectarines, cucumbers, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, kale, chillies, squash.
Clean fifteen: sweet corn, onions, pineapples, avocado, cabbage, sweet peas, papayas, mangoes, asparagus, aubergine, kiwi, grapefruit, cantaloupe melon, sweet potatoes, mushrooms.

So, you’ve switched to organic and now you’re hearing that we should not only be eating organic but it should be local and in season too. Mind blown. I’m feeling confused already. Does this mean I can’t eat bananas because I can’t grow them in my back garden? No, of course not. Although we certainly need to consider this. So why? Local, seasonal food means less CO2 released into the environment (considering its world earth day today then this is important), its supporting the local economy and the food is fresher and riper. It is a bit silly to eat strawberries in the winter transported from Spain when in summer we can buy some from down the road, no?

However, is fresher fruit and veg better? Or is frozen and canned okay? Or what about the reduced section in the supermarket where we can get a damn good deal? Supermarket fruit and veg has often been on a long journey from some strange country to end up on that shelf. Not only is this bad for the environment (world earth day people!) but it is argued that the nutrients in fruit and veg deteriorate over time. So often our fruit and veg has spent five or so days travelling to us, then 1-3 days on the supermarket shelf and then approximately 7 days in our fridges before we eat it. Most fruit and veg are made up of “70-90% of water” meaning that when not eating it as soon as possible after harvest the results are “higher rates of respiration, resulting in moisture loss, quality and nutrient degradation, and potential microbial spoilage”. So essentially, the supermarket veg we buy could have considerably less nutrients in it than we would want. Some fruit and veg are therefore picked before ripe which is a whole other issue as we are eating immature food which has nowhere near the amount of nutrients as that which is mature.

Freezing fruit and veg is often preceded by blanching which causes a loss of “20-60%” of B vitamins. Canning meanwhile exposes fruit and vegetables to high temperatures which causes a loss between “10-90%” of vitamin C. Therefore, the fresher the fruit or veg the better, including the shelf life. Shopping in the reduced selection of the supermarket could mean a severe decrease in vitamins especially if you then don’t eat the said fruit/veg for another week.

So, you’re avoiding the reduced section with your organic, fresh, local and seasonal fruit and veg and after all that effort you’ve got to wash it. Washing fruit and veg often feels like a chore and sometimes we wonder what it is the point? Especially if it’s organic and has no nasty chemicals on it. However, shockingly not washing fruit and veg brings more of a risk of food poisoning than cooking with meat and fish. Fruit and veg contribute to 46% of foodborne illness compared to 22% by meat and poultry according to the NHS. Yes, you are more likely to be hospitalised for food poisoning by meat but it is something serious to consider with fruit and veg. When you think about it this does make sense – they’re grown in the ground (often with manure) and possibly sprayed with pesticides so they probably have all kinds of nasties on them. So, always wash your fruit and veg – no excuses.

The conclusion of all of this? Local, seasonal, organic, fresh fruit and veg is best in an ideal world. However, we don’t live in an ideal world so do the best you can with what money you have. Look at the lists for the dirty dozen/clean fifteen, try and avoid the reduced section of the supermarket and when buying fruit and veg attempt to eat it as soon as possible. It’s all about mindful planning and little money can still go a long way. Ultimately, what is vital is that you eat as much fruit and veg as you can.

Most importantly though, wash your fruit and veg people. I can’t stress that enough.


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