Should I Buy Organic Apples?

by Amylee Amos MS, RDN, IFMCPNutrition
Apples covered in water droplets

Apple picking season is upon us, and grocery stores are now stocked with apples of every variety.  Eating apples as a snack or dessert is a great way to enjoy seasonal, nutrient dense produce. Our warm baked apple recipe in particular is a seasonal favorite!

Of course, eating any fruits and vegetables is better than eating no fruits and vegetables, but unfortunately, Big Ag is making our nutritious apple a potential health hazard. For the last several years, apples have made their way to the top of the Dirty Dozen, the list of fruits and vegetables that is the most laden with toxins from pesticides. The Environmental Working Group, who puts out the Dirty Dozen, found 80% of apples tested to contain diphenylamine. Diphenylamine is sprayed on conventionally grown apples to keep the skin from browning or getting black spots, thus extending their shelf life. Typically when apples are stored for long periods of time in cold storage refrigerators, they develop what’s known as ‘storage scald’, brown or black patches on the skin of the apple. By drenching apples in diphenylamine before storage, the apples are resistant to the discoloration (1).

While this toxic compound keeps apples looking shiny and appealing, the diphenylamine on the apples breaks down into nitrosamines, a group of carcinogenic compounds, which means that they contribute to the development of cancer (2). Equally concerning, nitrosamines have been linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (3). For this reasonWhile Americans are unknowingly munching away on the nitrosamines on our apples because our government neglects to admit the potential danger and harm they may cause, other countries have taken a more concerned approach. Because of the toxins on our apples, the European Union banned the import of American apples in 2012 (1,4). This is huge. The European Commission was unable to prove that diphenylamine was safe for human consumption and so they banned the toxin and regulated import of produce that contains it. While surely trade agreements and imports and exports are complicated issues (and well above my pay grade), the fact that Europe is worried about contaminates on our apples should concern us.

Critics of the organic food movement will argue that the amount of diphenylamine or any other toxin on apples is very small, and they would be correct in saying that. But the problem isn’t from eating just one conventionally grown apple. It’s from eating pounds of apples per year as well as eating tons of other pesticide and toxin laden foods. All of these toxins have a compounding effect. The way that all of these toxins are interacting in the milieu of the human body is too complex to be studied using our current tools. All we know is that they contribute to disease risk, likely in different ways and to a different extent in different people. 

But in terms of apples, you should buy organic apples whenever possible. Doing so can mitigate your risk of disease by reducing your toxic body burden. All of these small changes we make to our diet and lifestyle to reduce our exposure to toxins, such as reducing our use of plastics, add up to dramatically reduced risk of chronic disease as a result of toxic overload. 


References:

  1. Lunder, S. (April 24, 2014). “Behind Europe’s Apple Chemical Ban.” Environmental Working Group. Retrieved from: ewg.org on October 22, 2018.
  2. Bartsch, H. & Montesano, R. (1984). Relevance of nitrosamines to human cancer. Carcinogenesis, 5(11): 1381-1393.
  3. De la Monte, S.M. & Tong, M. (2009) Mechanisms of Nitrosamine-Mediated Neurodegeneration: Potential Relevance to Sporadic Alzheimer's Disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 17(4): 817-825).
  4. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2013:217:0001:0027:EN:PDF