What are the benefits of Organic Foods?

The Organic versus conventional produce is such a hot research topic, and the financial
stakes are so high on both sides that this debate will only intensify.

Just this year, three European studies have reported the benefits of organic crops,
including peaches in France and apples in Poland. The biggest was a four-year European
Union-funded study of organic and conventional crops grown in side-by-side plots on
725 acres near Newcastle University, in the United Kingdom. The study showed levels
of antioxidants 20 to 40 percent higher in organic wheat, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage
and lettuce, according to news reports.

Also making headlines was a 10-year study by a UC Davis team led by Mitchell, which
looked at dried tomato samples collected over 10 years from side-by-side organic and
conventionally farmed plots just west of the university. The results, published in the
Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, were dramatic: The organic tomatoes
contained 79 percent more of one antioxidant, and 97 percent more of another.

Another UC Davis study this year showed similar results for polyphenols (the
antioxidants in red wine and blueberries), vitamin C (an important antioxidant) and
some minerals in organically grown kiwi as compared with conventional fruit. Earlier
research showed similar results for marionberries, strawberries and corn.

Then there is the labeling of what is “organic”: Foods labels can say "100%
organic," "Organic" or "Made with organic ingredients." So What's the difference? The
U.S. Department of Agriculture's organic standards set three levels of organic
certification. "100% organic" foods are just what they say -- all ingredients are certified
organic, as is the processing. "Organic" means at least 95 percent of the ingredients are
organic; the rest can be non-organic or synthetic. "Made with organic ingredients"
means at least 70 percent of the ingredients are organic.

To be certified as organic by the U.S. Agriculture Department, food must be
free of most pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, genetic
modification, and irradiation. But many argue that true organic food also entails respect
for locally produced food, respect for livestock and employees, and environmentally
sustainable practices.

Why do you need organic foods? Aside from pesticide contamination,
conventional produce tends to have fewer nutrients than organic produce. On average,
conventional produce has only 83 percent of the nutrients of organic produce. Studies
have found significantly higher levels of nutrients such as vitamin C, iron, magnesium
and phosphorus, and significantly less nitrates (a toxin) in organic crops.

There is little question that organic foods are superior to non-organic ones. However, I
see many patients who are not eating any vegetables because they either cannot afford
them or they are too difficult to obtain.

Please understand that it is better to eat non-organic vegetables than no vegetables at

What if I can’t afford to eat organic? An option is to buy organic produce
selectively, as certain foods tend to have higher or lower amounts of pesticides. The
following foods tend to have the highest levels of pesticides (from Environmental
Working Group’s FoodNews.org):

These foods tend to be lower in pesticide levels:
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Fruits                                Vegetables
Peaches                              Spinach
Apples                                Bell Peppers
Strawberries                        Celery
Nectarines                           Potatoes
Pears                                  Hot Peppers
Red Raspberries
Imported Grapes
Fruits                            Vegetables
Pineapples                       Cauliflower
Plantains                         Brussels Sprouts
Mangoes                         Asparagus
Bananas                           Radishes
Watermelon                      Broccoli
Plums                              Onions
Kiwi Fruit                        Okra
Blueberries                       Cabbage
Papaya                             Eggplant