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Don’t Let Fear Stop You From Eating Your Five A Day

Are you eating enough fruits and vegetables to stay healthy? If your diet is like most New Zealanders, the answer is probably ‘no’.

Even though fruits and vegetables are rich in the nutrients that our bodies need, just over half of New Zealanders are not consuming the recommended three or more servings a day. On the other hand, more than half of us are consuming sugary drinks and fast foods at least once a week.

Our busy lives can lead us to eating meals on-the-go and relying on snack foods - making it harder to eat the rainbow of fruits and veggies we need. Creating more barriers to healthy eating are the reports that generate unnecessary fear about what might be on our produce.

Feeling stress or fear around certain foods or farming practices can take the joy away from eating - and put people off consuming healthy foods.

According to the small survey<https://www.safefruitsandveggies.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Report-White-paper-10-19.pdf> of registered dietitians from the Alliance for Food and Farming in the United States, 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.

Promoting organic produce can also have the ill effect of putting people off eating fruits and vegetables. This is because most people can’t afford a purely organic diet. The worry about eating produce that isn’t organically grown or farmed can result in people eating less of it over time, especially if organic produce isn’t accessible.
The worst thing we can do for our health is to give up eating a diet full of fruit, vegetables and grains. The fear of eating healthy foods can lead people to eating comfort foods that aren’t good for their health. To replace fruits and vegetables with fried foods and sugar is ultimately far worse for our health.

Potential residues on either traditionally-grown or organic produce are tiny – in amounts that do not cause any adverse effects on health.

The New Zealand Food Safety via the NZ Total Diet Study assesses New Zealanders’ exposure to agricultural compounds, contaminant elements, and nutrients from a range of food consumed in a typical diet.

The study is part of the Ministry for Primary Industries’ food monitoring and testing programme and is a critical tool for identifying food safety risks in the New Zealand diet. It provides consumers with the highest levels of assurance on, and confidence in, the integrity and safety of food consumed in New Zealand.

For the study, the levels of exposure for each chemical and contaminant are estimated. They are then compared to national and international food safety standards and guidance material to determine if there is a potential risk to consumers.

The latest Total Diet Study report issued in May 2018 confirmed that pesticide chemical residues found in New Zealand foods are at levels far below the tolerances established by national and international food safety standards and do not pose a safety concern. The amount of pesticides found on conventional produce is very small and lower today than in the past.

Organic produce might be marketed as healthier but scientific studies haven’t confirmed that there’s any advantage to eating organic.

Many healthy food studies <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22944875> have demonstrated that organic produce does not have a nutritional advantage over conventional produce, and organic produce is not associated with better health outcomes.

Other studies show that microbial pathogens — bacteria and viruses — on produce are of much more concern to consumers than pesticide residues. Hence, the advice to wash your fruit and vegetables prior to eating.

So remember to eat and enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables and know that you are providing your body with the nutrition it needs.

• Mark Ross is chief executive of Agcarm, the industry association for companies which manufacture and distribute crop protection and animal health products.

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