Are underdog organic fruits and vegetables better for you?
It is said that seeds that fall on good soil are better off than seeds that fall on rocky places or among thorns. But the produce of which of those seeds would be healthier for us? That is a question worth asking on National Nutrition Month. According to a 2014 meta-analysis, organic produce that have had to fight to keep their place on the food chain are better for humans than those spoiled fruits and veggies that have been sprayed with pesticide – not unlike how the ‘people’ on Jersey Shore are spray-tanned. For instance, an organic plant has to produce compounds call polyacetylenes to make itself bitter to insects – thus retaining its place in the aforementioned food chain; that is, to be eaten by human beings, not by insects.
As it turns out, previous research has suggested that these compounds may be able to help relieve inflammation and reduce the risk of cancer, though it is not clear how much you would have to eat to see the benefits. In addition, organic crops – which tend to experience higher levels of stress exposure and grow more slowly – have higher concentrations of antioxidants, produce more secondary plant metabolites (also good for your health), and have 50% more anthocyanins and flavonols. Moreover, a more recent meta-analysis found that organic dairy and meat have about 50% more omega-3 fatty acids. “Omega-3s are linked to reductions in cardiovascular disease, improved neurological development and function, and better immune function,” professor of food and human nutrition at Newcastle University in the U.K. and study co-author Chris Seal wrote. “So we think it's important for nutrition. That said, organic meat and dairy contain far lower concentrations of omega-3s than what are found in fish such as salmon.”
Another co-author, professor of agriculture at Newcastle Carlo Leifert, said that the benefits of organic produce are real. “Taken together, the studies on crops, meat and milk suggest that a switch to organic fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products would provide significantly higher amounts of dietary antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids,” he wrote. Not everyone is as optimistic, though. “Such small changes are unlikely to represent any nutritional or health benefit,” professor of nutrition at the University of Reading Ian Givens writes. He adds that the increase in omega-3 intake that would result from switching from conventional ‘moo cow f*** milk’ (as Lewis Black would put it) to organic milk would be marginal at best. Furthermore, a years-old analysis by researchers at Stanford University reached the conclusion that there was no sound overall evidence that organic crops were more nutritious.
In the end it may be a moot point, though. Organic, conventional; it’s a bit like tomayto, tomahto, isn’t it? As long as you eat your fruits and vegetables, it really doesn’t much matter how they are grown; that should a personal choice whichever kind you want to buy. Just be careful and don’t mistake organic milk for raw milk; that could be a problem. And just in case you thought – because I know I did – what works for plants doesn’t work for humans. In other words, it’s not as if not wearing sunscreen will somehow build your resistance to skin cancer. Wear sunscreen whenever you’re exposed to the sun.