Is organic food more nutritious than food produced via conventional methods? As a nutrition editor for EatingWell magazine, it’s my job to stay up on the studies that look at this very question. On July 29 researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine reported that there was no nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced foods. End of story? I don’t think so. Some studies show organics are more nutritious.
Consider these findings:
A 2008 review by the Organic Center of almost 100 studies on the nutritional quality of organic produce compared the effects conventional and organic farming methods have on specific nutrients. The report’s conclusion: “Yes, organic plant-based foods are, on average, more nutritious.”
Additionally, a 2003 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that organically grown berries and corn contained 58 percent more polyphenols—antioxidants that help prevent cardiovascular disease—and up to 52 percent higher levels of vitamin C than those conventionally grown.
The jury is still out on whether organic food does or doesn’t contain more nutrients than conventionally produced foods. That said, there’s at least one more good argument for eating organic—fewer pesticides. While I’ve never been a purist about eating only organic, now that I’m a mom, there are some foods I feel more comfortable about buying organic. Apples are one of these foods. So are strawberries.
Apples and strawberries are on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) “Dirty Dozen” list of foods that have the highest pesticide residues. EWG, a nonprofit organization, identifies the types of fruits and vegetables that are most likely to have higher trace amounts of pesticides based on the results of tens of thousands of USDA and FDA tests for pesticides.
Long-term exposure to pesticides has been associated with cancer, infertility and neurologic conditions, such as Parkinson’s. (So buying organic can help protect farm workers who are repeatedly exposed to pesticides.)
Small doses of pesticides are far more dangerous to children (whose bodies are smaller and nervous systems are still developing) than to adults.
You can remove some pesticide residues with washing but pesticides can be absorbed into fruits and vegetables, and leave trace residues. Many of the pesticides stay in the peel, so discarding the skin can reduce residues significantly—by up to 98 percent, according to a 2008 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry study. But ditch the peel and you lose out on a lot of fiber and many of the antioxidants.
Bottom line: I think that the most important thing you can do for your health is to eat lots fruits and vegetables—whether they’re organic or not, they’re full of helpful nutrients. I do think that if you’re shopping for a young child (like I am) buying some types of food organic makes good sense—from a pesticide perspective. And certainly buying organic is healthier for the environment because it mandates more sustainable farming practices and helps to reduce the amount of chemicals that leach into our soil and water.