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Q. Organic—or Not? Is Organic Produce Healthier Than Conventional?

By Marissa Lippert, M.S., R.D., EatingWell In Season: The Farmers' Market Cookbook (2009)

Organic—or Not? Is organic produce healthier than conventional?

A. There are at least two good arguments for eating organic: fewer pesticides and more nutrients. Let’s start with pesticides. Pesticides can be absorbed into fruits and vegetables, and leave trace residues. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, pored over the results of nearly 51,000 USDA and FDA tests for pesticides on 44 popular produce items and identified the types of fruits and vegetables that were most likely to have higher trace amounts. Most people have no problems eating conventionally grown produce but if you feel strongly about pesticide residues, the EWG’s list below should help you shop.

As for nutrients, in 2007 a study out of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom reported that organic produce boasted up to 40 percent higher levels of some nutrients (including vitamin C, zinc and iron) than its conventional counterparts. Additionally, a 2003 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that organically grown berries and corn contained 58 percent more polyphenols—antioxidants that help prevent cardiovascular disease—and up to 52 percent higher levels of vitamin C than those conventionally grown. Recent research by that study’s lead author, Alyson Mitchell, Ph.D., an associate professor of food science and technology at the University of California, Davis, pinpoints a potential mechanism to explain why organic techniques may sometimes yield superior produce.

It’s a difference in soil fertility, says Mitchell: “With organic methods, the nitrogen present in composted soil is released slowly and therefore plants grow at a normal rate, with their nutrients in balance. Vegetables fertilized with conventional fertilizers grow very rapidly and allocate less energy to develop nutrients.” Buying conventional produce from local farmers also has benefits. Nutrient values in produce peak at prime ripeness, just after harvest. As a general rule, the less produce has to travel, the fresher and more nutrient-rich it remains.

A 2008 review by the Organic Center of almost 100 studies on the nutritional quality of organic produce compared the effects conventional and organic farming methods have on specific nutrients. The report’s conclusion: “Yes, organic plant-based foods are, on average, more nutritious.”

Bottom line: “Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables in general is the point,” says Mitchell. If buying all organic isn’t a priority—or a financial reality for you—you might opt to buy organic specifically when you’re selecting foods that are most heavily contaminated with pesticide and insecticide residues. See next page for a handy chart for common fruits and vegetables.

 

Preferably Organic
—Most Commonly Contaminated*

If Budget Allows, Buy Organic

It’s Your Call
—Least Commonly Contaminated

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines
  • Grapes
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Blueberries
  • Lettuce
  • Kale/Collard Greens
  • Green Beans
  • Summer Squash
  • Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Raspberries
  • Grapes - Domestic
  • Plums
  • Oranges
  • Cauliflower
  • Tangerines
  • Bananas
  • Winter Squash
  • Cranberries
  • Onions
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapples
  • Avocado
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet Peas
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Watermelon
  • Sweet Potato
  • Grapefruit
  • Mushrooms

*Listed in order of pesticide load
Source: Environmental Working Group. Go to foodnews.org for updates. Updated June 2011.

COMMENTS POSTEDsort icon

Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition)
Alan D Dangour, Sakhi K Dodhia, Arabella Hayter, Elizabeth Allen, Karen Lock, and Ricardo Uauy
-Nutrition and Public Health Intervention Research Unit (ADD, SKD, AH, and RU) and the Medical Statistics Unit (EA), Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom, and the Health Services Research Unit, Department of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK (KL).
Background: Despite growing consumer demand for organically produced foods, information based on a systematic review of their nutritional quality is lacking.
Objective: We sought to quantitatively assess the differences in reported nutrient content between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs.
Design: We systematically searched PubMed, Web of Science, and CAB Abstracts for a period of 50 y from 1 January 1958 to 29 February 2008, contacted subject experts, and hand-searched bibliographies. We included peer-reviewed articles with English abstracts in the analysis if they reported nutrient content comparisons between organic and conventional foodstuffs. Two reviewers extracted study characteristics, quality, and data. The analyses were restricted to the most commonly reported nutrients.
Results: From a total of 52,471 articles, we identified 162 studies (137 crops and 25 livestock products); 55 were of satisfactory quality. In an analysis that included only satisfactory-quality studies, conventionally produced crops had a significantly higher content of nitrogen, and organically produced crops had a significantly higher content of phosphorus and higher titratable acidity. No evidence of a difference was detected for the remaining 8 of 11 crop nutrient categories analyzed. Analysis of the more limited database on livestock products found no evidence of a difference in nutrient content between organically and conventionally produced livestock products.
Conclusions: On the basis of a systematic review of studies of satisfactory quality, there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs. The small differences in nutrient content detected are biologically plausible and mostly relate to differences in production methods.

Anonymous

08/01/2014 - 10:25am

I am disappointed that Ms. Lippert is quoting papers from 2003 and 2007. In a more recent review of over 52,000 science papers, comparing nutrient content of organic food and regularly produced food, the researchers found "no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionality produced foodstuffs". No differences. None.
So spend the extra money and purchase organic food if you are concerned about pesticide use, but do not spend the money thinking that you are getting more nutrient-dense food. Because you are not. Sorry. You might 'feel' that this food is more nutritional and it would be nice if were, but it just simply is not.

Anonymous

08/01/2014 - 10:24am

I get a headache when I read peoples opinions. It seems like some people are cut and copy activist. Not willing to actually learn what, when, why, and how something is better or worse. Please, stop making your opinion that of what you have just read on an unaccredited site. I wish nothing but the best for you all, but some of these comments are why the internet has went full scale ridiculous.

Pretend for a second that everything you perceive, down to the littlest detail of your life, is incorrect. How would you go about finding the truth? Would you let the people who have led you wrongly tell you what your new "truths" should be? Would you Google your problems and take the first website that seems to know what they are taking about and base your every concern on the "facts" they are listing?

Please, for the love of yourself, learn how to learn. Its like the blind leading the blind. You will argue and fight and spill hatred all over an opinion that could be, and is most of the time, wrong. Its the fact that you want to justify yourself as being the one who is "correct" instead of proving the/a universal truth. The truth that above all can never be changed. Its not about what your reasoning tells you is right that you should fight over. You should fight over the fact that we are fed copious amounts of falsities and we all deserve more than that. It takes time and effort but one day I wish for pure knowledge for every single one of us.

Anonymous

07/11/2014 - 12:57pm

The USA has the worst food in the world, even the poorer countries are refusing the crops. Many countries are refusing to buy American foods, Not just because of GMOs but all the poisoning within the foods, like HFCS, Sweeteners, alcohol sugars & they are not just another form of Sugar, they are poisons made in a lab. The USA stopped importing Unrefined sugar(the healthier sugars with no toxins) in the 70s due to cost. Now the only thing America has is Refined Sugars, which is chemicals made in a lab. Its in everything, from breads, rice, eggs, meats (Pork being the worse), milks, creamers, candies, chocolate, baby formula's, baby foods, you name it. Plus its in Generic medicines, toothpaste, health bar/drinks, juices, vitamins(Bayer & Flintstones being the higher doses), etc...

Ive a friend who is now on an IV feeding tube due to her stomach being paralized by these chemicals, i have a food disorder(Fructose Malabsorption), i have found only 3 safe foods in 2 yrs. Or i'm paralyzed in agony from these unnormal chemicals. Its like fueling a car with Diesel, instead of unleaded. Food is a fuel for our bodies, filling it with the wrong fuel is going to cause major problems.

Have you ever read the ingredients? Are you aware a chick only takes less than 2 mths to fully grow, yet here in American they grow within a month or less, because of Arsenic is in their feed. It makes them grow faster! YUM!!! Not..... Which also affects the eggs.

Did you know, Organic's in America have between 5% & 30% chemicals within the products, because Only in America do they use the outdoors to grow Organics. Other countries uses Greenhouses. It makes a world of differences...... Research is your key to knowing how high your health care costs will become. Because, being poisoned-only leads to illnesses & sicknesses.... The US has the highest health care costs in the world, due to fueling our bodies with poisons. No other country allows for this. Don't you think America deserves better??? I do...

Anonymous

07/04/2014 - 2:23am

If you shop at a organic store like Earth Fare most of the fruits and vegetables are the same price as conventional fruits and vegetables and they are organic you might find some of the things are a little more expensive um like the onions or spaghetti squash and especially milk (2$ more then regular milk) but that produce is on the list of not necessary to buy organic anyways so if you compare the cucumbers to the cucumber at a regular store or the eggs to the eggs a regular store or the carrots to the conventional carrots they are almost the same price I bought a bag of all organic apples and they were only a dollar more then a bag of conventional apples and the taste is outstanding! my cucumbers were the exact same price ..my eggs for 20 cents less.. and a lot of stores like that will have sales weekly if you keep up on it chicken that is normally 599 a pound will go on sale every Tuesday at the fresh market for 50 percent off... there are ways to afford organic food you just have to be smart about it and know the differences between the prices of organic and regular and what is necessary and unnecessary so everyone that is beif I hear honey I wanted to sit there all day I wouldn't eithering negative and saying that they cannot afford to get it it is untrue.. if you can't afford the things that are more expensive you can at least do a lot of the other things that are the same price and realize that you're cutting down on a large portion of the toxins in your body something is better than nothing

Anonymous

05/22/2014 - 3:16pm

It has nothing to do with money i dont eat organic foods & im healther than most people that spend half their lives eating it. I eat pizza, mc donalds all greasy foods so what the purpose OF organic why separate foods why cant all foods be organic to make the world healthier. just saying its just like this, WHATS THE POINT OF EATING HEALTHY IF YOU SMOKE CIGGRETTES DEFEATS THE PURPOSE..

Anonymous

05/21/2014 - 6:47pm

Y'all should stop fightin' about Non-Organic vs. Organic!!! Organic foods are better and that's that. All y'all people who can't afford Organic foods are Y'all should eat ORGANIC!!!!!

Anonymous

04/24/2014 - 2:24pm

I can't afford organic. I don't have food stamps. I'm gonna eat conventional fruits and vegetables cause that's what I can afford and I prefer fruits and vegetables over processed foods. I figure it's better to eat "contaminated" fruits and vegetables that to not eat them at all. I sure do wish I could afford to be preachy! Maybe once I finish graduate school.....

Anonymous

04/19/2014 - 8:26pm

The problem with some of the organics are that they do not sell as well, you get them home and the top looks fine, but they are overripe in the middle to the bottom. I don't think mold is healthy either.

Anonymous

04/05/2014 - 12:05pm

Im doing a research paper and all of you who think organic is not good? y'all are whack

Anonymous

03/14/2014 - 9:46am

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