Are Organic Foods More Nutritious?

Source: By Steve Meyerowitz

More Vitamins and Minerals
There is mounting evidence that organically grown foods generate more nutrients and fewer nitrates. In a review of 400 published papers comparing organic and nonorganic foods, Soil Association Certification Ltd. Of the United Kingdom reported that organic crops were higher in essential minerals, phytonutrients, and vitamin C. Phytonutrients are plant compounds other than vitamins and minerals (such as enzymes, antioxidants, bioflavonoids).

In a 2002 University of Missouri study, chemists were shocked to discover that the smaller organically grown oranges delivered 30 percent more vitamin C than the large conventionally grown ones. Certified nutritionist Virginia Worthington found that a serving of organic lettuce, spinach, carrots, potatoes, and cabbage provided the recommended daily intake of vitamin C. but not so for the same veggies grown by conventional farming. Worthington reported that organically grown fruits and vegetables outpaced their conventional counterparts with as much as 27 per cent more vitamin C, 21.1 percent more iron, 29.3 percent more magnesium, 13.6 percent more phosphorus, and 18 percent more polyphenols. Polyphenols are a group of plant compounds such as bioflavonoids, flavanols, and pycnogenols. They are anti-inflammatory and have a wide range of health benefits, including protection against allergies, arthritis, heart disease, cancer and more. The organics also showed 15.1 percent fewer nitrates and heavy metals than the conventional foods.

Here’s another interesting point. These phytonutrients, such as polyphenols and antioxidants, protect both people and plants. Pesticides–insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides–actually block a plant’s ability to manufacture these important plant compounds. Without them, plants are handicapped and too weak to fight off pests. The organic farmer, on the other hand, builds up these important nutrients by feeding the soil, emboldening the plants to naturally defend themselves against pests and disease. In a study of antioxidants in organic and conventionally grown fruits, scientists found higher concentrations of valuable vitamin C, vitamin E, and other antioxidants in the organic foods. They theorized that the organically grown fruits developed more antioxidants as a defense and repair mechanism against insects when grown without the use of pesticides.

Another important plant compound is salicylic acid. It is a major anti-inflammatory agent and among other things provides protection against rheumatism, hardening of the arteries, and colon cancer and reduces the death rate from heart attacks. It was so useful that chemists synthesized part of it and called it aspirin! If you want the original version, eat organic vegetables. Biochemists at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary and at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland analyzed dozens of brands of organic and nonorganic soups and compared their levels of salicylic acid. The organic soups had, on average, 600 percent more healthful salicylic acid than the other soups. The highest, an organic carrot and coriander soup, contained 1,040 nanograms of salicylic acid per gram compared with 20 nanograms in the average nonorganic soup.

Lower Fats in Meats
If you enjoy your meats but are concerned with higher quality with lower fat content, choose organic. The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences studied thousands of cattle, sheep, and pigs and found that the organically raised animals had fewer health problems, better growth and fertility, and lower fat content than animals fed conventional feed.

Buy organic meats if you want to steer clear of “mad cow disease.” You would be astonished at what they put in conventionally raised cattle feed: horse protein, tallow, blood products, pork remainders, poultry brain, spinal cord, and manure—quite an obnoxious diet, especially for a vegetarian animal that has been traditionally raised on grain and grasses! Cattle brain and spinal tissue were eliminated from the U.S. feed in 1997 when they were suspected of causing mad cow disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), a degenerative brain disease for cattle that has also been linked to a fatal human brain disease (Creutzfeldt-Jakob). The only beef in the United States that is free of this kind of feed and the potential it presents for mad cow disease is organic beef.

Could the extra pennies spent on organic foods possibly save us dollars later by helping us avoid the drugstore or the doctor’s office? That is a question each of us must answer for ourselves. But one thing is certain: You don’t need a rocket scientist to tell you that organic foods are better for you. Yes, it’s nice to see the research substantiating the extra nutrients in organic foods, but most of us never read science journals, and we certainly don’t go shopping with them in hand!

We don’t need a report to tell us that organic foods are more nutritious. If you think about it, nutrients don’t come out of nowhere. They start in that soil enriched through composting, cover cropping, and humus. These organic techniques form the building blocks that make up the colors we see and the flavors we taste. Those vivid, vibrant colors and superior flavors are all the proof you need to understand how nutritious these foods really are. The proof is in the taste. Taste—now there’s a mouthwatering subject that is worth exploring.

Chromium 160
Vitamin C 125
Phosphorous 110
Magnesium 125
Iron 118
Polyphenols 117
Nitrates 88
0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160

Organic Conventional

Organic foods are higher in key minerals and plant compounds and lower in unhealthy nitrates. Source: Sheila Zahm and Aaron Blair, "Pesticides and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma," Cancer Research, 52 Supp. (1992):S5485-88)

Steve Meyerowitz, AKA Sproutman, is a health crusader and author on ten books, including The Organic Food Guide. He has been featured on PBS, the Home Shopping network, QVC and TV Food Network. He has written for Better Nutrition, Prevention, Organic Gardening and House & Garden magazines.