Organic vs. conventional produce: is one more nutritious?
Do you spend the extra money to buy organic groceries?
A new study says if you think they’re more nutritious—think again.
Stanford scientists analyzed nearly 240 studies over four decades that looked at nutrient and contaminant levels in food.
A 2010 Nielson study showed 76 percent of people buy organic food because they think it’s healthier. Fifty-one percent buy it because they think it’s more nutritious.
But the study says organic has no more nutritional value than conventional produce.
“I think it’s obvious organic produce is more nutritious,” says Jason Griffith, who owns certified organic farm Aspen Moon Farm in Hygiene, CO.
Don’t tell him his certified organic fruits and vegetables are no more nutritious than conventional crops grown with pesticides.
“I don’t agree with it. Yeah, I have a problem with that,” he says of the Stanford study.
And he’s hungry to find fault with it.
“I think their study shows there’s more nutritional value in organic food,” he says.
And he’s right—to a point.
The study shows no significant difference in vitamin A, C and E–but higher phosphorous and phenol levels in organic.
And he questions did the studies analyze the organic produce at their peak of freshness when their nutrients are highest?
“A lot of that depends on how, when and where that produce was picked. Conventional produce picked fresh has a higher nutritional value than organic produce picked a week early,” he says.
But he says when you compare apples to apples–ripe organic versus ripe conventional–organic wins.
A registered dietician disagrees.
“The travel time of the fruits or vegetables, nutrient losses, during that travel time, exposure to sunlight, when it was picked, all those factors go into it. But when it all comes down to it, it tends to be the same vitamin wise,” says registered dietician Holly Gallogly.
But she says there is a difference when it comes to pesticide-use.
The study found pesticide residue on 38 percent conventional produce and seven percent organic. Traces of pesticides can come from chemicals wafting over from other fields, or during processing and transport.
It’s the biggest reason some shoppers buy organic.
“I more buy organic because of the pesticides,” says shopper Kristi Gil.
“I’m actually a horticulturist. So I know the chemicals they use in it,” says shopper Donna Walker.
Besides, Griffith says, the study fails to look at the bigger picture.
“It’s worth the extra money for many reasons—the effect it has on the environment, workers, and bee population,” he says.
The study also found organic meat had considerably lower levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria than conventional animals. But, it says that bacteria would be killed during cooking.
The study’s bottom line: organic foods are not significantly more nutritious, but your exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria is lower.
Aspen Moon Farm sells its organic fruits and vegetables at the Boulder and Longmont Farmers’ Markets every Saturday. The family operation also provides produce to top Boulder restaurants, including Frasca, Colterra and Salt.