Eating organic foods may up the antioxidants in your diet, while lowering your exposure to pesticide residues, according to a new study from the United Kingdom.
A landmark meta-analysis study let by researchers from Newcastle University in the U.K., concluded that organically grown crops have higher amounts of several important antioxidants and lower levels of cadmium, a harmful heavy metal.
Whether or not organic produce is higher in nutrients than conventionally grown produce is a popular debate, and the last major meta-analysis conducted by Stanford University in 2012, concluded that there was no significant difference between organic and conventionally grown crops.
The new analysis, led by researchers in England, and published in the British Journal of Nutrition reviewed 343 peer-reviewed studies on the topic of organic versus conventional foods.Some 70% of the studies were conducted in Europe, so the results may not be the same for U.S. crops.
What did they report? The results revealed an 18-69% mean average difference between organic versus conventionally grown crops. Organically grown fruits, in particular, were found to be significantly higher in several important phytonutrients. They did not find any differences in the mineral content between organic and conventional. When analyzing for heavy toxic metals, no significant differences were present, except for cadmium. The researchers reported a 48% lower level of cadmium, a heavy metal that accumulated in the liver and kidneys, and needs to be kept to as low as possible.
Differences were also found in pesticide residues between organic and conventional crops Some 75% of conventional fruit and 32% of conventional vegetables had pesticide residues, compared to11% of organic crops. However, protein, amino acids, and nitrogen were reported to be lower in the organic crops. .
Should You Buy Organic?
There’s no easy answer about whether or not you need to buy organic as there is still no studies that show eating organic foods leads to improved health. (Plus, there are plenty of organic junk foods, like candy, chips and baked goods.)
The good news is that organic fruits, veggies and proteins are getting more competitively priced, but they’re still more expensive than conventionally produced products. If you can afford to buy organic, it makes sense for both environmental and potential nutritional benefits. But, if organic stretches your food budget, then eat organic when it really matters most (see the “Dirty Dozen” list); and look for in-season, locally grown products which are generally less expensive.
What’s more, buying local is probably the most ecological choice, because organic foods grown in other parts of the world use too much energy in transportation and food that must travel that far, lose nutritional value over time. I will choose produce from my garden first; farmer’s market second and then I’ll look for organic, when it’s grown in the USA or CA, where I live.
A good guide for when to buy organic or not, is to refer to the the Environmental Working Group’s so-called “Dirty Dozen,” which highlights the fruits and vegetables that have highest levels of pesticide residues.
Barański M1, Srednicka-Tober D1, Volakakis N1, et al. Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. Br J Nutr. 2014 Jun 26:1-18.