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Take It In: Eating organic foods reduces cancer risk, study shows

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Take It In: by Carol Bareuther

Imagine you could give friends and family the gift of good health this holiday season? According to a new study, wrapping up a bowlful of organic fruits and/or vegetables might be just the gift, as far as preventing cancer goes.

That’s huge, considering cancer is one of the top 10 causes of death in middle- and upper-income countries, according to the World Health Organization. But when it comes to fresh produce, there’s an even bigger message where life and health are concerned.

The jury is still out on the extent to which eating organically grown food may affect health. However, results of a headline-grabbing study published in October in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal by French researchers gives new hope that eating more organically may be an easy, cost-effective way to keep cancer away.

Specifically, this population-based prospective study looked at what and how often nearly 70,000 French adults ate of 16 products. These products included fruits and vegetables, ready-to-eat meals, meat and fish, vegetable oils and condiments, and dietary supplements. The intake data was computed to an organic food score. Follow up with the subjects ranged nearly five years. In the end, the take-home message was clear: Those who ate organic food more often had the least risk of cancer.

Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s heavily regulated and closely monitored National Organic Program, organic means a food is grown and processed without the use of  synthetic fertilizers, irradiation or genetic engineering. The program’s round, green-and-white USDA Organic seal appears on packaged, organically grown fresh fruits and vegetables, while the term “100% organic” appears on signage for unpackaged produce.

Organic foods, especially fruits and vegetables, were once hard to find and really expensive; today, not necessarily. Supply is on the upswing, meaning that many organically grown fruits and vegetables are more available and affordable. In fact, in the U.S., packaged salads, berries, herbs and spices, apples, beverages, bananas, carrots, value-added vegetables (like bagged, fresh-cut broccoli), lettuce and tomatoes ranked as the 10 most ample produce categories, according to “FreshFacts on Retail, 2017 Year In Review,” published by the Washington, D.C.-headquartered United Fresh Produce Association.

To eat more organically, especially fruits and vegetables, the first step is to buy and bring them home. Today, stores ranging from natural food groceries to mainstream supermarkets and big box retailers such as Walmart and Costco carry organic produce. These foods will either be segregated in their own organic section of the produce department, or integrated with or displayed next to their conventional counterparts.

Local farmers and farmer’s markets also are good places to find organically grown produce. However, do ask growers about their cultivation methods to make sure. Some small farmers do grow organically, but don’t have the money to get certified to legally advertise their products as organic.

Finally, the real bottom line when it comes to fresh produce and health is expressed in the title of an article written by Cara Rosenbloom, a registered dietitian, in the Washington Post last year: “A diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweighs the risks of pesticides.” Organic or conventional, all fresh produce is the gift that keeps giving in terms of protecting health and preventing disease.

Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Comments are welcome below.

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