It is surprisingly difficult to obtain clear evidence, stating that organic food is more nutritious than conventional fruit and vegetables. Some of the difficulties in assessing these claims is that overall vegetable consumption is generally higher in organic consumers anyway, that is to say they may be healthier because they eat MORE fruit and vegetables and consume less processed foods. Moreover, direct comparison is marred by the difficulty in assessing whether it is the nutrient quality of the vegetables themselves which change depending on the growing conditions or other factors including soil type, storage conditions, or supply chain differences.
A review in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2014 looked at nearly 350 publications and found, that despite discrepancies in reporting practices and measurability, antioxidant concentrations were significantly higher in organic crops, whilst the frequency of pesticide residue was found to be four times lower in organic crops.1
The consumption of organic fruit and vegetables is shown to limit pesticide exposure. Children are at higher risk of having higher contaminant intakes dues to the higher amount of food consumed per kg/bodyweight, this is known as the concentration effect2. Using urinary monitoring several studies have shown urinary pesticide residue excretions to be higher when eating conventional foods and to almost disappear when eating organic.
Every year in the US, the Environmental Working Group, (EWG), publishes a list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, fruit and vegetables, most affected by pesticide residues. If you are unsure about going all out organic, then these lists are a really useful place to start.
the dirty dozen
APPLES • SWEET BELL PEPPERS STRAWBERRIES • SPINACH • POTATOES PEACHES • NECTARINES
CHILIES • GRAPES • CUCUMBERS CHERRY TOMATOES • CELERY
Kale and Collards (EWG recommend that people who eat a lot of these, buy organic, especially if consumed raw, eg. In smoothies)
the clean fifteen
ASPARAGUS • SWEET POTATOES AVOCADOS • SWEET PEAS • PINEAPPLE PAPAYA • ONIONS • MUSHROOMS MANGO • KIWI • GRAPEFRUIT AUBERGINE • SWEETCORN
MELON • CABBAGE
Are organically grown fruits & vegetables more nutritious?
Buying ALL organic can seem expensive, and here in the Garden of England, where we have so much home grown produce, buying organic can also mean buying food with huge air miles, over something that was grown in the next door field. You can certainly reduce your exposure to pesticides by washing your conventional fruits and veggies. Note that blanching,
boiling, canning, frying, peeling and washing are all effective for reducing pesticide levels3. Washing in soaking solutions of salt or vinegar are effective at removing pesticides from the outer part of fruit or veg., however drying or dehydrating increases the pesticide content by concentrating levels.4
Strawberries are consistently high on the list, with 98% of strawberries tested in the UK containing some kind of pesticide or fumigant, with chemicals such as methyl bromide linked to a number of health complaints.5 Wash all strawberries in a saline solution before eating raw, especially for children.
Avocados were the cleanest of all vegetables with only 1% of conventional samples showing any levels of detectable pesticides.
ORGANIC MILK & MEAT
It is challenging to separate the fact from the fiction when comparing organic vs conventional milk and meat. Both the Dairy Council and the Soil Association have powerful marketing arms making claims and counter claims, some of which are largely unproven. So what can we be sure about based on the evidence?
Researchers have found clear differences between organic and conventional meat and milk in terms of Essential Fatty Acid composition, antioxidant quotients and the levels of essential minerals6. The findings, from a large-scale Review of the evidence, published in 2016, state that a switch from conventional to organic milk would raise Omega-3 intake by over 50% without any additional calorific burden. Organic dairy products are also being found to show a reduced risk association for eczema in babies51⁄2. While it is important to note that this Review was funded in part by a charity which supports organic farming, the report was published in the peer-reviewed British Journal of Nutrition. Some debate has arisen into whether these increases in nutritional profile translate into improved health outcomes? With over 50% higher levels of omega-3 than conventionally produced milk I believe it would be safe to assume so, yes. Increased omega-3 intake is linked to improved markers for cardiovascular health. Bear in mind however, that the beneficial Omega-3 fats are precisely that, fats, so the differences are less marked for skimmed milk than for full fat.
...a switch from conventional to organic milk would raise Omega-3 intake by over 50% without any additional calorific burden
There is also plenty of talk about residual antibiotics found in conventional milk. Food Standards Agency guidelines updated in 2015 state that “milk producers must ensure that milk from animals under treatment or in the withdrawal period does not enter the food chain” and it is up to the individual farmers to ensure this. Testing of the distribution chain may be undertaken at any time and there is a procedure for dealing with non-compliance.
To add my own interpretation of this directive, it is saying that antibiotic residues should be identified, separated out and discarded from the supply chain, however there are cases where milk does not always meet the required standards. For this reason, I choose to buy organic milk (and occasionally milk from local trusted farm shops if I run out), organic grass-fed butter and organic cheddar.
The question of meat consumption also falls into the arena of welfare and global sustainability and I am keen to stress that this is my personal opinion stated here, based on research I have done for myself.
Are organically grown fruits & vegetables more nutritious?
A projected population of 7.7 billion people by the year 2020 will present a shift in developing countries from a plant based diet to a meat and dairy based one and livestock production will be double that of what
it was in 2000
I hope it will encourage you to delve a little deeper for yourselves and see where your personal thoughts and feelings lie on the matter.
There is little evidence to directly link a rise in chronic health problems to modern methods of farming, especially when looking for correlations on a global spectrum. The feeding of beef tallow back into the food chain resulted in the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) epidemic in the UK in 1987. BSE is an example of a zoonotic disease; zoonotic diseases are those that move from the animal to the human population. The increase in the need for meat is fuelled by the needs of a rapidly expanding population. A projected population of 7.7 billion people by the year 2020 will present a shift in developing countries from a plant-based diet to a meat and dairy based one and livestock production will be double that of what it was in 200071⁄2. The feeding of livestock, the shorter timescale allowed to fatten a cow for market and the size and close proximity of large herds all leads to a high potential risk for spreading disease. Non-organic livestock are still routinely prescribed preventative antibiotics, which in turn may lead to resistant strains of super bugs such as MRSA. The change in the way that livestock are intensively reared has evolved as quickly as the population itself has expanded. In the US 70% of all land given over to grain production is used for feeding livestock.