- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 22, 2000

If a consumer chooses conventional produce, he is still doing something to improve rather than harm his health, says Keith Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association.

Washing produce well should be good enough to rid it of any pesticide residue. That means running the fruit and vegetables under hot water for a few minutes, Mr. Ayoob says. A vegetable brush and soap can help the process, as can vegetable cleaning spray.

Even produce that is peeled, such as melons or bananas, should be washed, he says.

"Washing does a great job of removing anything harmful," Mr. Ayoob says. "You are actually at a greater risk for health problems if you avoid eating fruits and vegetables. There is a mountain of evidence that attests to the power of produce. Five servings of fruits and vegetables a day will help guard against high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and obesity.

"The research that has been done has been on conventional produce, not organic, so people should not be scared of conventional produce," he says.

More than 80 percent of Americans don't consume the recommended two to three servings of fruit and three to five servings of vegetables daily, according to the ADA.

Fruits and vegetables are full of anti-oxidants such as vitamins C and E and carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein. Both anti-oxidants and carotenoids help protect healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals.

Foods high in carotenoids include red, orange and some green, leafy vegetables. Good examples are tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes and broccoli, Mr. Ayoob says.

Good sources of anti-oxidants are citrus fruits, sweet peppers, strawberries, broccoli and potatoes.

"It is most important to try a variety of fruits and vegetables to find ones you like," Mr. Ayoob says. "Too many people limit themselves to two or three. There must be 30 or 40 different kinds of apples. The greater your variety is, the greater your intake will be."

That is the lesson Lorraine Stretawski, a 53-year-old Newark, Del., woman learned when she decided to consume more fruits and vegetables. When she was plagued with immune-system problems several years ago, she adopted a diet rich in organic produce.

"I never knew what a healthy diet was before that," she says. "To me, a diet was always centered around meat and potatoes."

Mrs. Stretawski says it took her a while to find organic food she trusted.

"It does bother me that there is no national standard law for organics," she says.

Her advice is to find a local grower whom you trust. Most dedicated farmers will discuss their farming and processing methods.

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