A new study estimates 20,000 cancer cases per year could be prevented in the United States if half of the U.S. population increased its fruit and vegetable consumption by just one serving each per day.  In contrast, the study also examined the potential relationship between pesticide residues and cancer, and calculated that an upper-bound estimate of 10 cases (i.e. likely over-estimated) or less per year could be the result of residue.

The cancer prevention estimates were primarily derived using a 2011 World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) published report citing probable evidence that eating fruit and vegetables protected against certain types of cancers.  USDA’s Pesticide Data Program was used to analyze pesticide residues.  The current study was published in Food and Chemical Toxicology.  It is currently available online and will be in the December print edition. 

“Fear of cancer from pesticides unfortunately affects the perception of some consumers towards fruits and vegetables.  This analysis shows that the opposite is true.  Consuming a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is a way to prevent cancer and to lead a generally healthier life,” says the primary author of the paper, Dr. Rick Reiss, principal scientist, Exponent.  Many scientists have previously concluded that pesticide residues on food are rarely of toxicological significance.

“This study beautifully demonstrates relative risk:  20,000 to 10 or less.  In fact, the true benefits are underestimated, given the role fruit and vegetables play in weight control, reduced risk of heart disease, and overall cellular function -- in addition to cancer prevention.  The outlined pesticide risk was also a ‘worst-case’ scenario so the risk is likely much less than 10 cases per year,” says Elizabeth Pivonka, Ph.D., R.D., president and CEO of Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) the nonprofit entity in partnership with CDC behind the Fruits & Veggies—More Matters national public health initiative.  “Risk is sometimes hard to appreciate: a single cup of coffee has more naturally occurring carcinogens than a year’s worth of ingested pesticide residues.  The bottom line is that it is far, far more important to make fruits and vegetables at least half of what you eat each day than to be distracted with concerns about pesticide residues.”

PBH has many tips for incorporating fresh, canned, frozen, or dried fruit and vegetables into the diet, including a database filled with quick and delicious recipes.  This information and more can be found on the Fruits & Veggies—More Matters website.