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The Plant Medic

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Evidence for organic is bountiful

Q. Just recently, I saw a report on a TV morning show that quoted a Stanford University study that found that organic produce is not any more nutritious than conventionally grown crops. Is this true?

A. The Stanford study reviewed decades of research to determine whether choosing organic produce, meats and milk would lead to better nutrition in individuals generally. The conclusions drawn from this review are surprising, considering there are many research studies that show marked differences in the nutritional value of organic food compared with conventionally grown food.

A 2010 study by Washington State University scientists found organic strawberries have more vitamin C and antioxidants than conventional strawberries. Organic tomatoes also have more of a type of antioxidant called polyphenol than commercially grown tomatoes, according to scientists at the University of Barcelona.

Research has shown that organic milk has lower levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which are believed to be unhealthy for the heart in high concentrations, and higher levels of healthful omega-3 fatty acids compared with conventional milk.

In a review of 400 published papers comparing organic and non-organic foods, scientists from the United Kingdom reported that organic crops were higher in essential minerals, phytonutrients, and vitamin C. Phytonutrients are plant compounds other than vitamins and minerals that are considered beneficial to human health.

In a 2002 University of Missouri study, chemists discovered that organically grown oranges delivered 30 percent more vitamin C than the large conventionally grown oranges. They also reported that organically grown fruits and vegetables outpaced their conventional counterparts with as much as 27 percent more vitamin C, 21.1 percent more iron, 29.3 percent more magnesium, 13.6 percent more phosphorus, and 18 percent more polyphenols. The organics also contained 15.1 percent fewer nitrates and heavy metals than the conventional foods.

Another study published in the Journal of Applied Nutrition in 1993 showed that organically grown apples, potatoes, pears, wheat, and sweet corn, purchased over a two-year period, averaged 63 percent higher in calcium, 73 percent higher in iron, 118 percent higher in magnesium, 91 percent higher in phosphorus, 125 percent higher in potassium and 60 percent higher in zinc than conventionally grown foods purchased at the same time.

Research – including the Stanford study – found that organic produce has lower levels of pesticide residue than conventional fruits and vegetables. Pesticide residues can be especially detrimental for the health of pregnant women, newborns and small children. As early as the 1950s, scientists at the University of Missouri were conducting research that looked at organic vegetables grown on healthy soils compared with traditional systems. Scientists Carl Albrecht and André Visoin (both respected soil scientists at Missouri) warned against the loss of nutrition in plants and animals grown using conventional systems compared to organic sustainable systems.

Ultimately, citizens have to make their own choices when it comes to choosing organic or conventionally grown food. It is a fact that many citizens are now much more concerned about the nutritional value of the food they are purchasing – and that’s a good thing.

The Plant Medic, written by Ricky Kemery, appears every other Sunday. Kemery is the extension educator for horticulture at the Allen County branch of the Purdue Extension Service. Send questions to kemeryr@purdue.edu.

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