Post by Emily White
In the past organic foods were hard to come by, only found in health food stores. Nowadays go to any 'Countdown' or 'New world' and more likely then not you will have the option to buy organic products. This has created the growing debate on whether it is worth the associated added costs that tends to go hand in hand with organic produce.
There are many benefits to consuming organic foods and many studies are now revealing that they are in fact safer and more nutritious then their conventional counterparts. A study done comparing the nutritional content of organic crops versus conventional showed that the organic produce contained much higher values of Vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus and had substantially lower levels of nitrates and pesticide residues (1). It is not yet fully known the extent of damage that long-term consumption of these toxic chemicals is having on our bodies. Whilst all pesticides must be tested prior to their use, some experts believe that the short amount of testing time is not enough to truly evaluate the harmful effects. Therefore whilst many food technologists may claim that the use of these pesticides are in fact safe- no one can really be sure until long term testing over the course of a lifetime has been conducted (2).
Another study looked at the health benefits of organic food and discovered that in some cases they may have higher levels of secondary metabolites. These are the compounds that provide for antioxidant activity within the body. These include many important phytochemicals such as anthocyanins, flavonoids and carotenoids (3). A theory on why this could be the case is that because organic fruits and vegetables have not been sprayed with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, they may have more biochemical energy to synthesize these secondary metabolites. Put simply, imagine this: plants have natural systems within them to protect themselves from pests (if they didn't your great grandparents would not have had any fruits or vegetables to eat). When a plant is grown in an organic environment it naturally produces substances that provide protection from these pests. These particular substances just so happen to be the antioxidants/ secondary metabolites mentioned above. However when the crop is sprayed with pesticides it is protected from pests through those chemicals and is not required to produce it's own defenses through the way of antioxidants (3)
Another study published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry found that all of the produce in question had a higher level of total phenolics when grown organically. Phenolics play important roles in the body and studies have suggested they could in fact be protective against diseases such as various types of cancer (4). There have also been studies which show clear health benefits from the consumption of organic dairy products in regards to skin conditions such as dermatitis (5).
Going organic is not just about avoiding toxic chemicals like pesticides; it is also about what you get out of it. Higher levels of secondary nutrients such as antioxidants in organic produce make them nutritionally superior over their conventional counterparts. Therefore there are strong benefits in consuming organic fruit and vegetables to ensure we 'thrive' and not just 'survive'.
Obviously organic is not a viable option for everyone, and therefore it is not worth stressing over if you fit into that category. Conventional vegetables are better than no vegetables! Shopping at farmers markets can reduce the costs associated with organic produce however just making the effort to buy organic when it is possible can make all the difference!
1. Carbonaro, M., Mattera, M. (2001). Polyphenoloxidase activity and polyphenol levels in organically and conventionally grown peach and pear. Food Chemistry, 72(12) 419–424.
2. Worthington, V. (2001). Nutritional quality of organic versus conventional fruits, vegetables, and grains. Journal Alternative Complement Medicine, 7(1) 161–173.
3. Crinnion, W. (2010). Organic Foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer. Alternate medicine review, 15 (1) 4-12.
4.Mikkonen, T., Maatta, K., Hukkanen, A., Kokko, H., Torronen, A., Karenlampi, S., Karjalainen, R. (2001). Flavonol content varies among black currant cultivars. Journal Agricultural Food Chemistry, 49(3) 3274– 3277.
5. Asami, D., Hong, Y., Barrett, D., Mitchell, A. (2003). Comparison of the total phenolic and ascorbic acid content of freeze-dried and air-dried marionberry, strawberry, and corn grown using conventional, organic, and sustainable agricultural practices. Journal Agricultural Food Chemistry, 51(8) 1237–1241.
6. Caris-Veyrat, C., Amiot, M., Tyssandier, V., Grasselly, D., Buret, M., Mikolajczak, M., Guilland, J., Bouteloup-Demange, C., Borel, P. (2004). Influence of organic versus conventional agricultural practice on the antioxidant microconstituent content of tomatoes and derived purees; consequences on antioxidant plasma status in humans. Journal Agricultural Food Chemistry, 52(13) 6503–6509.