Are Organic Vegetables More Nutritious After All?

indexAs you likely know, there has been an ongoing debate regarding whether organic foods are actually healthier than conventional foods (grown with pesticides). Like a ping pong ball, studies have gone back and forth proving and disproving the benefits of organic foods. We here at NWEI have all along been proponents of organic foods when possible – if not for personal health reasons, then for the life and health of our soils. Just a few days ago yet another study revealed additional benefits of eating organic. For the full story, click here.

There may never be an end to arguments over whether organic food is more nutritious. But a new study is the most ambitious attempt so far to resolve the issue — and it concludes that organic fruit and vegetables offer a key benefit. It’s a scientific reply to an analysis that some researchers at Stanford University published two years ago. That paper, which generated lots of media coverage and much controversy, reviewed more than 200 studies of organic and conventional food, and concluded that organic foods do not really offer any significant nutritional benefit.

This new analysis, from a group of scientists mostly based in Europe, crunched data from an even bigger pile of studies: 343 of them, carried out over the past several decades. It will be published Monday in the British Journal of Nutrition.

The new analysis repeats some of the Stanford group’s findings. It finds that organic and conventional vegetables offer similar levels of many nutrients, including minerals, vitamin C and vitamin E. Conventional crops are higher in protein. And there are fewer pesticide residues on organic foods, as you’d expect.

But the group found a significant difference in the levels of special compounds called antioxidants. “Across the important antioxidant compounds in fruits and vegetables, organic fruits and vegetables deliver between 20 and 40 percent higher antioxidant activity,” says Charles Benbrook, from Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, a co-author of the study. These antioxidant compounds, which go by names like flavonoids and carotenoids, are getting a lot of attention lately. Their effects remain somewhat murky, but scientists say they can protect cells from the effects of aging, or from the sort of damage that can lead to cancer.

Benbrook says this is a big reason why public health experts want us all to eat more fruits and vegetables: They deliver a good dose of antioxidants. And if organic produce provides more of them, he says, “we think that’s a big deal.” …

For the full article, click here. To learn more about food choices as they relate to health and sustainability, check out our two food-focused discussion course books: Menu for the Future and Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability.

Deborah McNamara is Director of Organizational Partnerships for the Northwest Earth Institute.


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