Quite contrary

You CAN fool Mother Nature, but there’s a price to pay if you do.

The basic argument for eating organic is familiar: food that contains residues of pesticides and fertilizers introduce negative elements that undermine good nutrition.

But recent research indicates that there’s more value to organic foods than just the absence of harmful chemicals. The growing evidence shows that organic foods are considerably more nutritious than non-organic foods.

Rich with antioxidants As reported in the February 2003 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a team from the University of California-Davis, designed a research project to study the nutritional differences between marionberries (a type of blackberry), strawberries, and corn raised by three different methods:

  • “Organically” – no pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers were used
  • “Sustainably” – no pesticides or herbicides were used, but crops were treated with artificial fertilizers
  • “Conventionally” – chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer were used
The crops were examined to measure amounts of polyphenolic compounds, which are naturally potent antioxidants. The results showed that the plants grown organically and sustainably had far more polyphenolic content than those grown conventionally.

There was no surprise really that the higher amounts of polyphenolics were found in the crops that didn’t receive pesticides. When stressed by insects, plants produce more polyphenolics, which act as a natural pesticide. Plants that are treated with pesticides don’t need further protection, so they produce fewer polyphenolics.

What was not expected was the data showing that the antioxidant levels were slightly higher in the sustainably grown group compared to the organic group. The sustainably grown corn had the highest polyphenolic content – almost 60 percent higher than the conventionally grown corn.

The conclusion: Foods grown with artificial fertilizer, but without pesticides or herbicides, may contain the highest concentration of antioxidants. Why these fertilizers gave antioxidants a slight boost in foods that were otherwise organic is not clear. But I would hope that further studies might compare the use of artificial fertilizers with natural organic fertilizers.

Meanwhile, the U.C. Davis researchers plan to conduct a similar “organic/sustainable/conventional” study to test the antioxidant levels in tomatoes, broccoli, and peppers.

Salicylic soup

This new research provides a natural follow-up to another organic food study I told you about last year. In that e-Alert (“Mother Nature’s Acid Trip” 3/28/02) I looked at a British report that assessed 35 different brands of vegetable soup, both organic and non-organic. They found that on average, the organic brands contained nearly six times as much salicylic acid, a natural anti-inflammatory agent. One soup in particular contained nearly 50 TIMES the concentration of salicylic acid as in the typical non-organic soup.

Earlier work by the same British research team proved that eating salicylic-rich foods translates into higher blood concentrations of the acid, which previous research has shown to fight certain types of cancer as well as plaque build up in the arteries.

And while it seems like a coincidence, it’s probably no coincidence at all that, like polyphenolics, salicylic acid is believed to be produced by plants as a natural defense mechanism against pesticides.

Typically, organic foods cost more and are a little harder to find than conventionally grown foods. But if you’ve been reluctant to pay extra just to avoid pesticides, the growing evidence indicates that you’ll be getting not only safer, but also much more nutritious foods.

To Your Good Health,
Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences InstituteSources:
“Comparison of the Total Phenolic and Ascorbic Acid Content of Freeze-Dried and Air-Dried Marionberry, Strawberry, and Corn Grown Using Conventional, Organic, and Sustainable Agricultural Practices” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2003 Feb 26;51(5):1237-41
“Organic and Sustainable Foods Have More Polyphenolics Linked to Health Benefits” U.C. Davis News & Information, 3/7/03, news.ucdavis.edu
“More Antioxidants in Organic Food Than conventionally Grown Food” Dr. Joseph Mercola, mercola.com
“Organically Grown Foods Higher In Cancer-fighting Chemicals Than Conventionally Grown Foods” American Chemical Society, 3/4/03, chemistry