Eating more vegetables may be one of the simplest choices you can make to improve your health. Just about any vegetable is good for you, but some are better than others. Some fruits, lower in fructose, are also healthy as they contain high amounts of antioxidants.
In one study1 from the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found a suboptimal diet was culpable in developing cardiometabolic diseases.2 Good food identified in the study to reduce the risk of cardiometabolic diseases included fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, seafood and red meat.
As I’ve discussed before, overeating fructose in any form may lead to obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. However, fruit in moderation is a healthy addition to your diet.
As you choose your fruits and vegetables, keep in mind that whole food is best. Outbreaks of Listeriosis,3 Cyclosporiasis4 and Salmonella5,6 associated with packaged salads, precut vegetable trays and precut melon have been reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Precut Fruit Raises Your Risk of Foodborne Illnesses
In the summer of 2018,7 the CDC began investigating a multistate outbreak of Salmonella linked to precut melons supplied by Caito Foods in Indianapolis. The outbreak included cantaloupe, watermelon and fruit salad mix. When the outbreak appeared to be over, the CDC reported 77 people had been infected and 36 were hospitalized.8
In what eerily mimicked the 2018 outbreak, Caito Foods was once again at the center of a precut melon recall less than a year later. April 12, 2019, the company announced the recall of fresh-cut melon products.9 According to the CDC10 these included precut watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe and precut fruit medley. The products had been distributed to 16 states and sold under multiple labels.
The investigation began April 2, 2019; 22 days later, 117 people were found to have been infected across 10 states, of which 32 required hospitalization.11 In addition to throwing out the recalled food, the CDC has specific recommendations to clean your refrigerator as the bacteria may spread to drawers or shelves. You’ll find the instructions at cdc.gov/foodsafety/communication/clean-refrigerator-steps.html.
Symptoms of salmonella poisoning, which include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhea and fever, may be experienced 12 to 72 hours after eating a contaminated product and may last four to seven days12 Keith Warriner, a professor of food science at the University of Guelph, talks about the risks precut fruit presents:13
“The problem with processed produce is that much like when you get a scratch on your skin, once it’s been cut, it loses a layer of protection and is exposed to [possible contamination]. Melons, in particular, are an extreme example because their flesh is the best growth medium for salmonella.”
Since melons are grown on the ground, the skin may pick up pathogens. These are easily transferred into the fruit as you cut through the skin. Warriner recommends14 thoroughly scrubbing the skin with a brush under running water before cutting. Either eat the melon immediately or refrigerate it, as Salmonella may double every 30 minutes.
The High Price of Precut Produce
The high price you may pay for precut convenience does not end with potential bacterial contamination. As you may have expected, as it is a convenience item, precut fruit costs more than it does to buy the whole fruit and prepare it at home. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,15 in 2017, food was the third largest household expense, behind housing and transportation.
In 2018, Vice16 did a comparison between precut and whole fruits and vegetables. They found that by buying whole and preparing at home, the average person would save $100 each month. For instance, they priced broccoli whole at $2.99 a pound, but the chopped florets were $4.99 a pound, and pineapple was $2.99 a pound but prepared and precut was $4.99 a pound.
One of the largest jumps was red onions, sold whole for 49 cents a pound at Walmart, but diced were $4.00 a pound.17 After factoring the additional cost into your budget, if you still consider purchasing precut fruit (a more nutritious choice than processed junk food), it’s also important to recognize that cutting exposes the flesh to oxygen and light, which increases oxidation and affects vitamin retention.
In an interview with Men’s Health,18 Caroline West Passerrello,19 consulting dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, pointed out that whole fruits and vegetables also retain their vitamins longer than those exposed to the light. Since much of the water evaporates faster, water soluble vitamins are also at risk.
Cutting fruit increases the respiration rate leading to more active metabolism and faster deterioration.20 Despite being detached from the plant, the fruit remains a living organism after harvest and thus continues respiration, during which carbohydrates are reduced to produce energy.21 Higher respiration after cutting may also increase the loss of flavor and nutritive value.22
Another cost to purchasing precut fruit is the plastic it comes in. Much of it ends up in landfills and the ocean. Precut fruit also requires processing, packing and constant refrigeration, requiring a great deal of energy.
Precut, All-Natural Fruit Comes With Additives
Additionally, to keep the fruit from turning brown, it may be dipped in calcium ascorbate23 to preserve color and texture. The chemical was part of the ingredients in NatureSeal,24 a product available for industrial and residential use.
According to the FDA,25 calcium ascorbate has a generally recognized as safe (GRAS) designation and is exempt from the usual food additive tolerance requirements.26 In 2001 the FDA cited NatureSeal for not listing calcium ascorbate on the label. NatureSeals states:27
“Our products are comprised of ingredients that are sulfite-free (GRAS), allergen-free, GMO-free, and Kosher and Halal certified, with some blends certified for use on organic produce.
The NatureSeal line of products are precise blends of vitamins and minerals that maintain the natural texture and color of fresh-cut produce for up to 21 days, without altering the flavor. 30+ different formulations are currently being used by over 500+ processors, across 30 different countries.”
The flawed GRAS system has allowed thousands of food additives to bypass stringent testing as a part of a loophole stemming from the 1958 Food Additives Amendment.28,29 When the law was written it was meant to apply to common food ingredients known through historical use to be safe.
However, the chemicals currently used didn’t exist in the 1950s when the law was written, and countless manufactured ingredients are now slipping through this loophole.
What’s In the Container?
Mashed30 shared several other reasons why purchasing precut fruits and vegetables may mean you’re not getting what you expect. For instance, according to an article in the New York Post,31 reporting on issues raised in a documentary series entitled “Rotten,” nearly 90% of the garlic sold around the world originates in China.32
Setting aside concerns about pollution with heavy metal, processed garlic is produced by Chinese prisoners who are responsible for peeling it. The job is difficult and often the prisoners’ nails fall off. To continue to work, they are left to peel the garlic with their teeth.
Baby carrots are a popular snack food as they’re easy to grab and go, as well as sweet, and they go well with a number of different dipping sauces, such as hummus. However, while carrots are nutrient dense, baby carrots are bathed in chlorine before sale, increasing your risk of exposure to disinfection byproducts, which are some of the most dangerous chemicals to your health.
The white areas that may appear on baby carrots is not a result of the chlorinated rinse but rather a sign of dehydration.33 Baby carrots are the result of larger carrots that have been pared down and stripped of the protective layer. Dehydration results in the white areas and likely a loss of nutrition and flavor.
Prepare Fruit and Vegetables to Reduce Possible Contamination
Once upon a time, all that was required to eat an apple was polishing it off on your jeans before taking a big bite. However, now pesticide residues and bacteria play an important role in food safety. According to Reuters,34 the EPA mandates harvested apples be soaked in bleach water for two minutes to remove bacteria and other “organic matter.”
Unless you are purchasing organic produce, your food also likely contains pesticides. One study35 offered a surprisingly simple and affordable way to get rid of toxic pesticides contaminating food. The team from the University of Massachusetts used apples to examine the effectiveness of commercial and homemade washing agents.
Using highly specialized analysis, they found surface pesticide residue on apples was removed most effectively using baking soda (NaHCO3). The team tried tap water and Clorox bleach but neither worked as well as baking soda, which is highly alkaline. The authors wrote:36
“This study gives us the information that the standard postharvest washing method using Clorox bleach solution for 2 min is not an effective means to completely remove pesticide residues on the surface of apples. The NaHCO3 method is more effective in removing surface pesticide residues on apples. In the presence of NaHCO3, thiabendazole and phosmet can degrade, which assists the physical removal force of washing.”
Strengthen Your Immune System Through Daily Lifestyle Choices
Purchasing your food from high-quality, small-scale local sources is one of the best ways to protect yourself from foodborne infection and pesticides. Another way to protect yourself from infection is to strengthen your immune system.
Ideally, by making daily lifestyle choices to support your overall health, you will strengthen your immune system and reduce your risk of infection. Crucial strategies to accomplishing this task include:
Avoiding sugar — The average American consumers 17.4 teaspoons of sugar each day,37 and more disturbing is the excessive intake of fructose and high fructose corn syrup.
Fructose is a hepatotoxin, metabolized directly into fat.38 Sugar intake has a negative effect on your immune system.39 Substitute processed foods, especially those high in grains, fructose and sugar with plenty of organic raw foods.
Optimizing your gut health — Your gut microbiota play a fundamental role in the function of your immune system.40 Taking a high-quality probiotic or eating fermented foods helps populate your gastrointestinal tract with good bacteria, your best defense against harmful bacteria like Salmonella.
Optimizing your sleep — The amount of quality sleep you receive exerts a strong regulatory effect on your immune function.41 One study42 found sleep deprivation mirrors the body’s immune response to exposure to stress. For more information see my previous article, “Sleep — Why You Need It and 50 Ways to Improve It.”
Reducing stress — The level of stress you experience has a negative effect on your immune system.43,44,45 Find ways to relax; consider yoga, Emotional Freedom Techniques, meditation and other recreational activities. For more suggestions see my previous article, “How Stress Affects Your Body, and Simple Techniques to Reduce Stress and Develop Greater Resilience.”
Incorporating exercise — Incorporating plenty of regular exercise each week will help support and strengthen your immune system.46 Find a form of exercise you enjoy and use the Nitric Oxide Dump daily to help support mitochondrial biogenesis and reduce insulin resistance, as I describe in “The Benefits of Nitric Oxide Dump Exercise to Your Health.”
Optimizing vitamin D — Using sensible sun exposure to optimize your natural vitamin D production, or taking a supplement if needed, will help modulate your immune responses. Deficiency is associated with an increased susceptibility to infection.47