The nutritional value of fruits and vegetables has been decreasing over time. Generally speaking the vegetables of today, are not as healthy as those from a decade ago. Sugar content in plants is rising, and protein content is falling due to increased carbon dioxide levels, according to Dr. Irakli Loladze in Politico’s article “The Great Nutrient Collapse“. Loladze also found that, “overall concentration of minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron had dropped by 8 percent on average” in the plant samples he studied.
As the nutrient content of plants shifts, they are providing us less and less of the nutrients we need. This compounds modern problems of chronic lifestyle disease prevalence (i.e. heart disease, type 2 diabetes, etc). Not only do Americans not consume enough fruits and vegetables (which help prevent these diseases), but the produce we are consuming is increasingly lacking in essential nutrients.
This brings me to my main question,”Is organic food more nutritious?”. Working at an organic certification agency, I get this question a lot from the general public. It’s a valid question that deserves looking into. Certified Organic foods are those produced without any genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic pesticides, and much more. The U.S. standards for organic are complex and cover a lot of ground, however there are no nutritional requirements per se in the standards.
Because the organic standards have requirements for farmers to build soil health, the food grown in said soil, will most likely have access to far more nutrients than conventionally grown food (see my last post for details on this). Plants absorb nutrients available in the soil, you eat the plants, and get those nutrients. Organic farming also helps sequester carbon from the atmosphere, pulling it into the soil. As I previously mentioned, too much carbon in the air is what’s causing less nutritious food. Win-win!
There have been several studies that looked into nutritional quality of organic vs. conventional (non-organic) food. A meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that organic crops had significantly higher concentrations of antioxidants (such as phenolic acids, flavanones, and anthocyanins). The study goes on to say that, “Many of these compounds have previously been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including CVD and neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers, in dietary intervention and epidemiological studies.”
And not surprisingly the publication also found the “frequency of occurrence of pesticide residues was found to be four times higher in conventional crops, which also contained significantly higher concentrations of the toxic metal Cd.”
The Bottom Line:
- Buy organic product from local smaller scale farms. Avoid conventional produce when possible.
- Better yet grow some food yourself in a garden. Just a few weeks ago I added some organic compost to my garden to help build the soil.
- Choose the most nutrient dense foods giving yourself the best shot at getting all the nutrients you need (i.e. dark green greens instead of iceburg lettuce, sweet potatoes over potatoes).