Does Eating Organic Fruits and Vegetables Help Prevent Cancer?

Baskets of organic vegetables
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When you're roaming the aisles in the grocery store, you often face an important decision: Should you buy organic foods, like organic fruits and vegetables, or regular old fruits and vegetables as a way to help prevent cancer? Find out the facts, below. 

Nutrition of Organic vs. Non-Organic Foods

Some studies say that organic and non-organic versions of the same foods are essentially equal in nutritional value, while others claim that organic versions have a higher nutrient content. All in all, most experts agree that the nutritional benefits of eating fruits and vegetables outweigh any small risk of consuming chemical residue on non-organically grown produce. 

Organic produce isn't always available at every supermarket, and it does cost a bit more than non-organic produce.

If you're shopping on a tight budget, you may be able to reduce your costs and exposure to pesticides by only buying organic fruits and vegetables listed on the "Dirty Dozen" list, which is compiled annually by the Environmental Working Group and ranks foods by their potential to increase consumers’ pesticide exposure. Similarly, the report has a list of "Clean 15" fruits and vegetables considered safer to purchase when conventionally-grown.

How Harmful Are Pesticides? 

Organic fruits and vegetables have not been exposed to pesticides and chemicals, but regular fruits and vegetables have been. What does this mean for your health? 

The chemicals that are used in non-organically grown foods have been thoroughly studied. The consensus among major peer-reviewed studies is that consuming non-organic fruits and vegetables is not harmful to your health. However, this point is debated by organic food advocates, and some people refuse to believe that these foods are safe to consume.

Based on the scientific data that is available today, there is no evidence that would force the FDA and USDA to change their regulations about the use of pesticides and other chemicals in agricultural production.

When used in the wrong capacity, pesticides and herbicides can be harmful to your health. However, the amount of chemical residue that's found on fruits and vegetables is low. And it's even lower if you rinse and scrub your produce before consuming it, which is recommended.

It's worthwhile to still wash organic produce, too, because it can still help get rid of any dirt, pieces of bugs, and bacteria like listeria, salmonella, and E. coli.

Preventing Cancer

A recent study of 68 946 French adults showed that people who consumed organic food had a significant reduction in the risk of cancer. Yet people who buy organic food also tend to be more physically active, less likely to smoke, and more likely to follow a healthful diet, which all play a role in a person's cancer risk.

The American Cancer Society recommends a diet that's packed with many fresh fruits and vegetables to help reduce your risk of cancer. As far as whether the produce needs to be organic, the organization says there's not enough research to demonstrate whether such foods are more effective in reducing cancer risk than similar foods produced by other farming methods.

The Bottom Line

If money is no object, or you think that organic foods taste better or that future research will show that organic foods are, in fact, better for the body, or you simply want to support organic farm practices, then, by all means, buy organic. But in short, regular old fruits and veggies are a safe choice and some of the best foods you can put in your body.

The current 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that people needing 2,000 calories per day include 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables in their daily diets. And, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only one in 10 adults in this country meet these guidelines. So whether you buy organic or non-organic produce, try filling half your plate at every meal with colorful, nutritious fruits and veggies. 

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Cancer Society. Food additives, safety, and organic foods. Updated February 5, 2016.

  2. Environmental Working Group. Shopper's guide to pesticides in produce. Updated 2019.

  3. Baudry J, Assmann KE, Touvier M, et al. Association of frequency of organic food consumption with cancer risk: findings from the NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort study. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(12):1597-1606. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.4357

  4. Lee-kwan SH, Moore LV, Blanck HM, Harris DM, Galuska D. Disparities in state-specific adult fruit and vegetable consumption - United States, 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017;66(45):1241-1247. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6645a1

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