Bananas are America’s most eaten fruit – more than apples and oranges combined. Every year, the U.S. imports over 10 billion pounds of bananas. Most are produced in the tropics and are shipped for long distances before reaching our supermarkets. Ecuador, Guatemala, and Costa Rica are our largest suppliers.
Only about 3% of the bananas imported are organically grown without the uses of sprays that kill pests and fungus. This is significant, because of the amounts of fungicides sprayed on the remaining 97% of the conventional bananas we import.
Over the last decade, liberal spraying practices have led to a rapid development of fungicidal resistant fungi. Because of this, both larger quantities and more varieties of fungicide are sprayed.
Interestingly, even with large amounts of spray, bananas are ranked 19th on the produce list published annually by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). So, 18 other produce items have less amounts of pesticide traces found in the fruit or vegetable.
But that said, the following are reasons why I only buy organic bananas:
- We eat lots of bananas. The “Clean 15”, list of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are labeled that way because they have low quantities of pesticides. This doesn’t mean that they are void of toxins though. My boys eat bananas for lunch and several times a week for breakfast in a smoothie. This means that bananas ranks #1 on the food eaten most often by them. Even though the amounts of chemicals per banana are low, the toxin exposure is more significant given the volume they consume. In public health, this is called “bioaccumulation.”
- The most common reason for buying conventional bananas is that they have thick skins, so the toxic sprays do not get into the fruit. The EWG research finds toxins in the fruit of the banana every year. So, how do they get there? While the skin is thick and does provide a level of protection, the skin is still permeable and allows some toxins. Additionally, bananas are grown in the same fields every year, so the soil has an accumulation of these sprays from run off which then gets into the fruit.
- The total price isn’t much more. At my local Wholefoods, conventional bananas are 49 cents and organic bananas are 69 cents per pound. This means I am paying 40% more per pound, which is significantly higher. But when you think about the total cost, I buy 3 pounds of bananas at a time and am paying 60 cents more each purchase, which I can live with.
- I like bananas. Banana growers on both sides of the fence agree that the current way of growing bananas is not sustainable. This means that it is conceivable that a crop failure will occur if growing practices are not changed. Beginning a transition to growing bananas organically is one option. I’m not saying it’s the easiest option, however, it is one option. Buying organic is like voting with your wallet or pocketbook: if you increase demand, growers will see the need to increase supply. So, I buy organic bananas with an eye to the future
"Buying organic is like voting with your wallet or pocketbook..."
While I could go on, I will stop at these four points. If you only eat an occasional banana, then buying organic or conventional likely doesn’t matter. If they are a staple in your diet, then it likely does matter.
And, if you’ve eaten conventional bananas for years and are now regretting it, please remember that our bodies are resilient. Health is not a tightrope where if you step an inch to the left, or an inch to the right, you can fall and die.
In using the analogy that I got from our medical director, Martin Katz, who I believe heard it from Peter Attia, health is much more like a kitchen sink. Water overflowing the sink is when you have symptoms of disease. But many, many bad things were needed over a period of time in order to stop up that sink. And if you’re taking BrocElite, exercising, and/or eating healthy, you’re running the garbage disposal and clearing the sink regularly, so do not fear!