Researchers out of Newcastle University in England found that organic fruits and vegetables contain higher levels of healthy antioxidants and lower levels of pesticides compared to non-organic produce in a recent study.
It’s the latest study to enter the organic food debate; there have been other studies suggesting that organic fruits and vegetables are no more nutritious than non-organic, most notably a Stanford study conducted in 2012, which brought into question whether or not it was worth paying more for certified organic produce. But this study says there are significant and irrefutable benefits that may warrant the extra costs.
A team of scientists around the world looked at 343 previously published studies and analyzed the data in a statistical procedure called a meta-analysis.The researchers looked at data using a number of methods, and found the results were consist every time, with more benefits to the organic food. Organic fruits and vegetables came out with 17 percent more antioxidants than conventional counterparts on average. In some cases levels were even higher. “A group of compounds known as flavanones, for example, were 69 percent higher in the organic produce,” reports the New York Times. "The findings fit with the expectation that without pesticides, plants would produce more antioxidants, many of which serve as defenses against pests and disease." And the Times notes that the study also found that organically produced foods, especially grains, "contain lower levels of cadmium, a toxic metal that sometimes contaminates conventional fertilizers.”
According to the study’s lead author, Carlo Leifert, a professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University in England, the research, which is being published in the British Journal of Nutrition, “shows very clearly how you grow your food has an impact,” he said. “If you buy organic fruits and vegetables, you can be sure you have, on average, a higher amount of antioxidants at the same calorie level.”
However, the study authors are not making health claims, explains the Times. “We are not making health claims based on this study, because we can’t,” Dr. Leifert said. The study, fails to say “organic food is definitely healthier for you, and it doesn’t tell you anything about how much of a health impact switching to organic food could have.”
While the reduced exposure to pesticides and herbicides reduces the risk of health issues associated with those chemicals, it’s the higher antioxidant levels in organic fruits and vegetables that could have even greater benefits as they’ve been linked with a lower risk of cancer and other serious illnesses. The 2012 Stanford study concluded that there was little nutritional difference between organic and conventional food and the benefits, if any, were negligible.
Both the current study and the Stanford study found the levels of pesticide residue to be significantly higher on non-organic food, which proponents of organic food say warrant the higher price even if there are no superior nutritional benefits. “Organic farming, by and large, eliminates the use of conventional chemical fertilizers and pesticides,” reports the Times. “Those practices offer ecological benefits like healthier soils but produce less bountiful harvests,” which drives up the cost of organics. But if these benefits are valuable, the higher price may be well worth the spend.
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