WASHINGTON — Shelling out a few extra dollars for organic foods could pay off in the long run when it comes to your health.
In the largest study of its kind, a meta-analysis recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers analyzed data from 343 peer-reviewed publications and found that organic foods have more nutritional benefits than their conventional counterparts.
“What they came out with is that organic foods are 18 to 69 percent higher in their concentrations of antioxidants than conventional foods that are exactly the same,” says Mary Beth Albright, food lawyer and writer for National Geographic’s The Plate.
What does this mean, exactly? Consumers who switch to organic fruits, vegetables and cereals will receive 20 to 40 percent more antioxidants than they would if they ate conventional. Albright says this is the equivalent of two extra portions of fruits or vegetables — just without the calories.
Organic fruits, vegetables and grains are higher in antioxidants because of how they are grown: with fewer pesticides than conventional crops.
Albright says USDA-certified farmers can still use some pesticides on their crops, but several are forbidden, including those that protect against threatening bugs and funguses. Because of this, the plant produces its own defenses, and these defenses are in the form of antioxidants.
“And when humans eat the plant with those antioxidants in them, it also helps our body ward off disease and other harmful things,” Albright says.
Organic crops also have a leg-up on conventional products when it comes to sugar and starch content. Synthetic fertilizers are commonly used in conventional farming, and these fertilizers have high nitrogen content, Albright says.
“When the nitrogen gets in the soil, it’s a very quick supply of energy for a plant, so the fruits and vegetables grow really large, really quickly,” she says.
Economically, this is beneficial to the farmer, but when crops grow too fast, the antioxidants that are supposed to develop don’t get the chance, and instead, starches and sugars take their place.
The study also found that cadmium, a toxic metal contaminant, was decreased by 50 percent in organic foods, Albright says. And while cadmium is not a toxin most are concerned with, its presence is cause for question.
“We’re seeing that the toxicity of organic crops are just lower than the toxicity of conventional crops, and we need to believe that those will be translated into better health effects in the human body.”
Albright spoke with the one American researcher on the study, and he told her the results bring to light the declining state of conventional farming.