Despite the highly-publicized Stanford study from two years ago, which concluded that there was little difference in nutritional content between organic and conventional produce, a new comprehensive review of 343 studies has found just the opposite – and more.
The review of studies found that organic fruits, vegetables and grains contain substantially higher levels of antioxidants – on average 17 percent more – as compared to conventional produce. For certain groups of antioxidants, the levels were even higher. For example, flavanones (primarily found in citrus fruits) were found to be 69 percent higher in organic foods. Scientists have hypothesized that, without use of pesticides to ward off insects and other hazards, organic plants produce more antioxidants and natural toxins to defend themselves against these threats. Professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University in England, Carlo Leifert, said that “[i]t shows very clearly how you grow your food has an impact…[i]f you buy organic fruits and vegetables, you can be sure you have, on average, a higher amount of antioxidants at the same calorie level.”
Nutritional content aside, organic produce has another strong benefit – it does not contain most of the pesticides and toxic metals that coat (and often remain on) conventional produce. So the study found that not only are organic foods higher in antioxidants, they also contain far lower concentrations of residual pesticides and the toxic metal cadmium. The Stanford study also found that pesticide residues were several times higher on conventional produce, but downplayed the significance of that finding by concluding that the levels were still, for the most part, below established safety limits.
For those of us who would prefer to limit our pesticide intake as much as possible, the Environmental Working Group publishes “clean fifteen” and “dirty dozen” guides, which ranks produce by pesticide level. For example, strawberries and apples contain among the highest amount of pesticide residue of any produce (and so are at the top of the dirty dozen list), whereas produce with thicker skin, such as avocadoes and pineapples (among the clean fifteen), typically contain the least residue. That way, rather than emptying our wallets going all organic, we can make the decision between organic and conventional peaches, for example, based on their “dirty” or “clean” ranking (spoiler: they’re dirty!). And, of course, eating more vegetables overall – organic or not – is always a good idea.
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