Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
30 Nov

Dear Mark: Are Hybrid Fruits and Vegetables Healthy?

Dear Mark,

I was wanting to know if there is any danger in eating hybrid foods. I recently tried broccolini and then discovered that it was a hybrid between broccoli and Chinese kale. Is this dangerous to eat? Is it similar to GM? I would greatly appreciate your input on this before I start eating more of it.

Thanks, Angelina

Thanks, Angelina, for the question. It’s a good one, because even when we don’t explicitly seek out the obvious hybrids (broccolini, pluots, apriums, etc.), we’re still exposed to them. In case you didn’t know, hybrid fruits and vegetables are created by cross-pollinating two closely related species of the same genus or two cultivars or varieties within the same species. Though we’re talking about the artificial, man-enabled variety in today’s question, this phenomenon happens quite frequently in nature. Random hybridization is essentially how new species of plants arise – stretched out over time. Artificial hybridization operates on the same principle as natural hybridization, only with authorial intent.

So, does eating a pluot, a tangelo, a plate of broccolini, some seedless watermelon, a golden kiwifruit, or salad of hybrid cherry tomatoes mean we’re consuming an unholy bastard child that our ancestors wouldn’t have recognized as food? Of course not. These are legitimate, interesting varietals that taste good and offer beneficial dietary nutrients, just like their parents.

Technically speaking, all fruits and vegetables are hybrids. You go back far enough and it’s just pollen and seeds and wind and bees – one big swirling floral orgy – and every single plant we know today has ties to that epoch of love. Modern hybridized fruits and vegetables like broccolini and grapples come about in much the same way (cross-pollination), but with a little guiding intervention. And remember that many if not most “normal” fruits and vegetables we eat today are modern creations – the familiar yellow banana, boysenberries (a hybrid of raspberries and blackberries), grapefruit, meyer lemons, and numerous apple varieties (but more on this tomorrow). We’ve been cross-pollinating plants for centuries.

But wait: how similar are hybrid foods to GMOs? I mean, both represent forms of human intervention into nature for the purpose of improving it, right? We’re generally suspicious and skeptical of GMOs, so why do hybrids get a pass?

GMOs involve the combining of DNA molecules from disparate sources into a single molecule to form a new set of genes. The organism that receives this new DNA molecule gets modified, or new, genes, including ones that improve a plant’s hardiness, imbue it with powerful endogenous pesticides and/or herbicides, or lengthen its shelf life. Others increase the vitamin content and some increase the uptake of minerals from the soil. Whatever your opinion on GMOs, hybrids aren’t the same.

At first glance, I understand the hesitation, the instinctual drawing back. Mankind may be damn good at creating complex tools, inventing machines, erecting global communication networks, and generally manhandling anything the world can throw at us, but we seem to trip up when we try to circumvent nature. More specifically, our attempts to improve upon nature in the dietary realm have been downright disastrous. Industrial solvent-extracted seed oils, Crisco, HFCS, wheat fortified with extra gluten, acres and acres of soil-depleting monoculture crops, and (potentially troublesome) untested, unproven GMOs – our track record inspires little confidence.

But hybridization isn’t some monolith to be universally condemned. You have every right to be wary of it, but be smart about it. Hybridized wheat bred to have triple the gluten? Avoid it – but not because it’s a hybrid. Avoid it because it’s wheat with triple the gluten. It’s the gluten that’ll get you, not the fact that a human interfered in its conception. There’s no toxic byproduct created out of thin air by the act of hybridization. But broccolini, demon spawn of the deadly broccoli and toxic Chinese kale? C’mon. If a person is going to posit that broccolini is dangerous, they need to give a better reason than “It’s a hybrid.” Hybridization happens in nature. In and of itself, it’s a perfectly legitimate process. You need to identify specifics. What are the toxic elements being introduced or concentrated? Where are the nutritional deficits? You need to point to the “gluten of broccolini,” if it even exists.

If you accept the nutritional legitimacy of broccoli and Chinese kale (and you should – they’re great), you shouldn’t fear their love child (it was an arranged marriage, sure, but it worked out in the end) broccolini on dietary grounds. Lightly steam it, stir-fry it with a bit of butter or coconut oil, or add it, chopped, to a soup right before serving, and you’re in business. It’s full of potassium, folate, iron, soluble fiber, and vitamin C. You might run into talk online of a rat gene being spliced into broccolini to increase its vitamin C production, but it’s unsubstantiated, and the folks who originally made the claim have retracted and corrected it.

The same goes for the others. For example, pluots are fine if you tolerate apricots and plums. Sure, there’s a bit more (or a lot more, as the case may be) sugar, but that’s plainly evident once you taste one. The fructose content is not a hidden danger. It’s considered a feature by the producers. Just don’t eat a bag of them in a sitting, just as you wouldn’t eat a sack of donut holes.

Use common sense and avoid utter nonsense, like this supposed drawback to hybrid fruits and vegetables that I kept coming across online: that they’re missing “vital electrics.” Vital electrics. Yes. Those. I’m not entirely certain what electrics are, but the fact that they unerringly appear coupled with “vital” makes me think I need them. So, yeah – hybrid foods apparently lead to vital electrics deficiency. If you’ve ever eaten a hybrid vegetable, be sure to get your electrics tested. It’s absolutely vital that you do. Fruitarian guru David Wolfe seems to be the source of this vital electrics business, and he’s also of the opinion that a hybrid fruit is to be avoided because “it is confused.”

Hybrids aren’t a big deal either way. They’re just another type of vegetable, only cross-bred to maximize desired traits, like durability, yield, size, and taste. Eat them, or don’t, but don’t fret. You’ve got bigger things to be concerned with – the vegetable oil your food is cooked in, the wheat and sugar that worm their way into seemingly everything, the quality of your meat and fat, the overabundance of stress and scarcity of sleep, the strength of your social ties, the intensity of your workouts – so don’t worry whether broccolini is out to get you.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Weird to see a blog on this. I saw it for the 1st time Monday and brought some home, just had it for dinner…delicious!

    CNYmicaa wrote on December 1st, 2010
  2. I wasn’t even aware of the existence of broccolini, pluots, and apriums until today. Gotta try them out.

    Jeff wrote on December 1st, 2010
  3. Someone correct me if I’m wrong. A hybrid does not ‘breed true.’ That’s why if you save seeds from a true hybrid, if you get offspring, it is not the same as the original hybrid’s offspring.

    Mary Anne wrote on December 1st, 2010
    • The first generation after a cross will probably have a great variety of properties, but the longer you breed a fertile hybrid the more predictable its genetics will become.

      Tim wrote on December 6th, 2010
      • Leave it to nature and stop tampering with it! We may be clever, but nature knows best and always has or else none of us or anything would’ve evolved in the first place!

        debnose wrote on September 9th, 2012
  4. Funny, that doesn’t even seem like the same David Wolfe these days. Here he was a month ago:

    Grok wrote on December 1st, 2010
    • Isn’t that Daniel Vitalis? I’m pretty sure he and David Wolfe are not the same. Also, I take issue with Wolfe for reasons outside of food philosophy that I don’t feel inclined to elaborate because they’re rather tangential.

      As far as open-mindedness goes, I looked into raw foods on my journey to eating well and being healthier. The extreme fanaticism and anti-intellectualism of that faction drove me away. In addition, many of them eat so much sugar that it boggles my mind (e.g., dried fruit, honey, agave, and fruit). I’m open to different ideas, and not all raw foodists are the same, but my experience with that culture was enough to scare me away for good.

      Bri wrote on December 3rd, 2010
      • Oops, LOL! wrong guf-ru. Must have been half asleep when I did that. Oh well, both generally bore me to tears.

        Grok wrote on December 3rd, 2010
      • Maybe you just haven’t experienced the best! I’ve been a raw foodist for 9 years now and have made many adjustments in my diet; one being getting rid of agave nectar, which brings me to where I am today experiencing ultimate health on a raw food diet. And no, we don’t eat a lot of ‘sugar’ … honey, dates, and fruit don’t have the same devastating effects on the body as processed cane sugar does, and moderation is the key. I am also in no way a religious fanatic, so this way of eating is not to be mistaken for that. Actually, it is the basic way to eat, just take the examples of what wild animals eat (of course, in my case I’m talking about the vegetarian ones), they never cook their food but eat it RAW! It’s not a religion, it’s a way of life! 😉

        debnose wrote on September 9th, 2012
  5. The really ironic thing is that broccoli itself is an inbred type of Brassica – ever see a plant with leaves that tight in nature? Nope. Intentionally inbred and cross bred to give us nice, tasty, tight little florets. Ditto for cauliflower by the way.

    John wrote on December 1st, 2010
    • Exactly!!

      Dain wrote on November 25th, 2011
  6. I thoroughly enjoyed your subtle rebuke of David Wolfe. That man is preposterous.

    Bri wrote on December 2nd, 2010
  7. Thanks for your interesting articles and humor.
    Farmed salmon was especially interesting.
    We are fortunate since we live on an island with lots of fishermen who sell on the docks.

    Mark, can you give me your opinion of Hemp Hearts? It’s all the ‘rage’ now. I am using them because I don’t get hungry for hours.
    Four tablespoons on a salad or in eggs keeps you going all day! Thanks, Mary. S.S.I.

    Mary cairns wrote on December 2nd, 2010
  8. Very funny and accurate – a great article, Mark.

    Tim wrote on December 6th, 2010
  9. Wolfe is not fruitarian, in fact he eats both ants and moths. That being said he does come up with seemingly far fetched ideas now and again.
    I think realising that basically all our foods (also the animals) are hybridized is important, not because this is necessarily bad in and of it self, but because it makes it possible for us to realize that there are different aspects of our produce that are different from their wild counterparts, because we have bred for them. Things such as higher starch/sugar content, larger size, lower fiber content, lower content of alkaloids (or medicines), as well as the fact that most of our produce comes from a very limited variety of plants, bred into different lines (or vegetables), but which have very similar nutritional characteristics, as they originate from the same plant.

    Frederik wrote on December 6th, 2010
  10. I am not totally disagreeing with what is written, because I don’t know. The only thing is I am confused about is the hybrid…as far as I know a hybrid will not reproduce true to its’ seed. The reason why seed companies label hybrid seeds with f1. Now if you bred two types of vegetables and created a new vegetable. For example: if you bred two different open pollinated tomatos to create a better bigger tomato, and that newly created tomato plant could reproduce true to its’ seed, it is not a hybrid but a newly created open pollinated tomato. This is how I understand the open pollinated plant and the hybrid.

    Cindy wrote on March 17th, 2012
  11. I think that the word hybrid,GMO etc. are just words that are used to throw the mind of the people off who don’t study for them self. Their are food from nature God’s green earth and their are foods made in the laboratories from the greedy lazy powers that be who because of greed are to lazy to properly replenish the soil every 3 to 7 years as required. Our natural crops lack so much nutrients that the bugs of the earth count it as waste of the earth and their colonies come forth
    to devour it all. bugs have not gotten worse, growing food with integrity is at it’s all time lowest is whats going on. They Lie to us to convince the world, that their is this die need to now make our veggies in labs with only part of the nutrition we need to survive as they watch the declining health of the country and rave about the stocks of the pharmaceutical drugs companies going up. Shame on you America for doing this to our veggies and our meats. People look around how many people are sick around you including your own families and yourself wake up…. reach, research the answers are there. please excuse any mistakes in spellings thanks

    sandra wrote on April 16th, 2012
    • I agree, Sandra, you said it best!

      Just yesterday I was with a friend at a non-organic farm watching him foolishly pick out ‘food’ and noticed the people shopping there looked so unhealthy, grumpy, over-weight, bent over, could barely walk, had growths on their skin, balding hair, bloodshot eyes and pale complexions… these people did not look as though they were consuming healthy food, but only concerned out of brainwash to support their community farmers who no doubt use Monsanto’s seeds!

      I would burn their fields if it was legal. 😉
      People need to get their priorities straight and demand ORGANIC, non-gmo, non-man-induced-hybrid FOOD!

      debnose wrote on September 9th, 2012

    lightbody wrote on July 12th, 2012
  13. Thanks so much for answering this question. I ate a pluot and loved it. Then I realized that I usually try to avoid genetically modified foods and was wondering if my delicious pluot was bad for me. Everything you wrote makes sense and I really appreciate that you took the time to answer the question!

    Tracey wrote on September 5th, 2012
  14. Your remark about balding has no merit. It has been linked to other issues but I question hybridizing without explicit genetic testing. I have tried the broccolini and it was awesome but doesn’t mean it is good for you. I will be very skeptical about the produce I eat.

    sceptical wrote on March 10th, 2013
  15. Now I know what it’s all about, I was so confused about the carrots I bought yesterday, I looked at them and I realized that my parents use to get the dark red carrots and they looked healthy, I was thinking whether orange once are good or not. But I now I know the difference between the hybrid and the natural, but still naturally grown plants are the best. I don’t like the hybrid tomatoes at all, sometimes they are yellow, light red, orange and green. I always get perplexed that why they are in so many colours.

    Aniruddha wrote on March 19th, 2013
  16. Some of these comments lead me to think that not everyone read the article. Hybrids and GMO are NOT the same. Hybrids can occur naturally with no human manipulation. But GMO’s are made by taking the DNA of one life form and putting it into a different life form. Most often, it is taking a pesticide and placing it within the DNA of a plant. The result is a plant with pesticide in every part of it. Then we eat it. The proponents of GMO are usually one of the following: they have blind faith in “science”, they are uninformed, they don’t care, or they have something to gain–mainly putting profits before people. The general public needs to wake up and embrace a much needed fear. It may be that we are condemning future generations to unknown ramifications.

    Bee wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  17. The bottom paragraph is a most important. We have an abundance of things to worry about and food should be the least of it. I think it’s disgusting that I have to spend three hours in a grocery store trying to find a food that hasn’t been altered in a way that gives an unbalanced regiment of nutrients into my body. Since my body is what keeps me going daily, to deal with the sleepless overworked days and excersize routines, it happens to be the biggest priority. Which makes what we put into it the biggest priority. So a large sarcastic thanks to all the empty minded supporters and soulless activists for the state of gmo and hybrid food that now I couldn’t find a natural fruit in my grocery store if my life depended on it. And very bluntly, it does depend on it.

    Sarah wrote on March 24th, 2013
  18. Its like playing Russian roulette to buy one days meals. Do I want to die by ms, cancer, or brain tumor? Oh!! I know! I choose death by slowly losing essential nutrients in place of excessive fructose and hidden aspartame labels.

    Sarah wrote on March 24th, 2013
  19. Great Post – This Hybrid issue has always been of great interest and concern to me also. From researching both Dr. Sebi and David Wolfe’s information, Dr. Sebi stresses the danger of consuming the poison within the hybrid plant such as cyanide. How ever, David Wolfe states that the hybrid can be counteracted with chlorophyll such as the green juice from kale etc.
    The news reported a couple of months ago that the rice is carrying traces of arsenic and I wonder just how many of us heard that report and just how many of us take this report seriously. I’m sure a whole lot more of this kind of reports will be rearing it’s head in the near future which validates how dangerous hybrid foods really are.
    I personally have removed most hybrids from my diet but also realize that 99% of our food is hybrid of which 50% are on the highest level of sugar and starch would be the worst of the worst and the lessor of evils such as those considered to be cross pollinated in nature I continue to consume.
    Your best line of defense however is simple, if you decide to consume poison than be proactive and detox it from your system once every 3 month that way the poison would build up enough to harm you in the future.
    Be Sensible, Be smart and Be Blessed!

    Dr. Aqasikesat wrote on March 24th, 2013
    • Excuse me, I meant to say wouldn’t build up enough to harm you in the future :)

      Dr. Aqasikesat wrote on March 24th, 2013
  20. Hi Mark, longtime reader and first time poster here and easing myself into primal slowly but surely. Having just read the lectin post prior to this one, I am worried that I am not availing of all the goodness of the broccolini since I eat it raw. To be more precise, I blend it into a smoothie-like concoction with 1 banana and water added in. Should I be steaming it or heating it up somehow beforehand?

    JR wrote on June 3rd, 2013
  21. there is all that we eat ,wear & drink making by the hybrid food,hybrid cotton and hybrid grapes and other wheets so i want to say that all are disease today in the world are only by hybrids because they reduce immune in body and create unnecessary problems.

    nipun sharma wrote on June 6th, 2013
  22. What is the real difference between hybrid, genetically improved and genetically modified. Any variation in the quality in nutrients.

    F R Khan wrote on September 20th, 2013
  23. Please dont Just Read But React!

    Leave it to nature and stop tampering with it! We may be clever, but nature knows best and always has or else none of us or anything would’ve evolved in the first


    Yes! Hybrid means they say combination but in reality they are trying to take nature and former and eventually we consumers into their control. These fruits vegetables, chicken,sheep,fish even honey,cow are all non-reproducible(barren), if our children eat only these non reproducible (barren) food daily then they also will become barren, then they also have to take injections like cow to be pregnant. If we dont stop these scientists now the whole creation is in danger. Eventually we will all be under ones control (in bible Anti Christ)becoz we cant stay without food for not more than 30 days or so, right.

    venus wrote on February 24th, 2014
  24. I’m 52 years old…. and I remembered my grandpa, used Seville oranges to get grapefruits, and I must have been about 7 or 8. So hybrid, has been around long,long before I was I was born. I was raised on cabbage, carrots, ugly oranges, yellow bananas, etc.

    Jolice wrote on August 1st, 2015
  25. So, when you say that GMOs are “untested”, are you suggesting that hybrids *have* been tested? I would like more information on that.

    If a new hybrid is created, does it need to go through a scientific assessment and approval by government, like GMOs do? Or do we just magically know they’re safe?

    Chris MacDonald wrote on October 12th, 2015
  26. Is it true broccoli is acidic and increases carbonic acid in our body then making it hard for our body to absorb nutrients. Please enlighten me on this wether it’s just some hoax. Tqvm.

    Hamee wrote on June 17th, 2016

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!