Is it really worthwhile to spent more money on locally grown organic fruits and vegetables than non-organic fruits and vegetables? The answer is a resounding “YES!” Organic grown foods have significantly more vitamins, antioxidants and secondary metabolites such as phenolic compounds than non-organic foods. These compounds provide protective health benefits and lower the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes, hypertension and many other chronic health conditions (Romagnolo & Selmin, 2017; Wilson et al., 2017; Oliveira et al., 2013; Surh & Na, 2008). We are what we eat–we can pay for it now and optimize our health or pay more later when our health has been compromised.
The three reasons why fresh organic food is better are:
- Fresh foods lengthen lifespan.
- Organic foods have more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and secondary metabolites than non-organic foods.
- Organic foods reduce exposure to harmful neurotoxic and carcinogenic pesticide and herbicides residues.
With the advent of chemical fertilizers farmers increased crop yields while the abundant food became less nutritious. The synthetic fertilizers do not add back all the necessary minerals and other nutrients that the plants extract from the soil while growing. Modern chemical fertilizers only replace three components–Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium–of the hundred of components necessary for nutritious food. Nitrogen (N) which promotes leaf growth; Phosphorus (P which development of roots, flowers, seeds, fruit; and Potassium (K) which promotes strong stem growth, movement of water in plants, promotion of flowering and fruiting. These are great to make the larger and more abundant fruits and vegetables; however, the soil is more and more depleted of the other micro-nutrients and minerals that are necessary for the plants to produce vitamins and anti-oxidants. Our industrial farming is raping the soils for quick growth and profit while reducing the soil fertility for future generations. Organic farms have much better soils and more soil microbial activity than non-organic farm soils which have been poisoned by pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and chemical fertilizers (Mader, 2002; Gomiero et al, 2011). For a superb review of Sustainable Vs. Conventional Agriculture see the web article: https://you.stonybrook.edu/environment/sustainable-vs-conventional-agriculture/
1. Fresh young foods lengthen lifespan. Old foods may be less nutritious than young food. Recent experiments with yeast, flies and mice discovered that when these organisms were fed old versus young food (e.g., mice were diets containing the skeletal muscle of old or young deer), the organisms’ lifespan was shortened by 18% for yeast, 13% for flies, and 13% for mice (Lee et al., 2017). Organic foods such as potatoes, bananas and raisins improves fertility, enhances survival during starvation and decreases long term mortality for fruit flies(Chhabra et al, 2013). See Live longer, enhance fertility and increase stress resistance: Eat organic foods. https://peperperspective.com/2013/04/21/live-longer-enhance-fertility-and-increase-stress-resistance-eat-organic-foods/
In addition, eating lots of fruits and vegetables decreases our risk of dying from cancer and heart disease. In a superb meta-analysis of 95 studies, Dr. Dagfinn Aune from the School of Public Health, Imperial College London, found that people who ate ten portions of fruits and vegetable per day were a third less likely to die than those who ate none (Aune et al, 2017). Thus, eat lots of fresh and organic fruits and vegetables from local sources that is not aged because of transport.
2. Organic foods have more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and secondary metabolites than non-organic foods. Numerous studies have found that fresh organic fruits and vegetables have more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and secondary metabolites than non-organic ones. For example, organic tomatoes contain 57 per cent more vitamin C than non-organic ones (Oliveira et al 2013) or organic milk has more beneficial polyunsaturated fats non-organic milk (Wills, 2017; Butler et al, 2011). Over the last 50 years key nutrients of fruits and vegetables have declined. In a survey of 43 crops of fruits and vegetables, Davis, Epp, & Riordan, (2004) found a significant decrease of vitamins and minerals in foods grown in the 1950s as compared to 1999 as shown in Figure 1 (Lambert, 2015).
Figure 1. Change in vitamins and minerals from 1950 to 1999. From: Davis, D. R., Epp, M. D., & Riordan, H. D. (2004). Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops, 1950 to 1999. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23(6), 669-682.
3, Organic foods reduce exposure to harmful neurotoxic and carcinogenic pesticide and herbicides residues. Even though, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) state that pesticide residues left in or on food are safe and non-toxic and have no health consequences, I have my doubts! Human beings accumulate pesticides just like tuna fish accumulates mercury—frequent ingesting of very low levels of pesticide and herbicide residue may result in long term harmful effects and these long term risks have not been assessed. Most pesticides are toxic chemicals and were developed to kill agricultural pests — living organisms. Remember human beings are living organisms. The actual risk for chronic low level exposure is probably unknown; since, the EPA pesticide residue limits are the result of a political compromise between scientific findings and lobbying from agricultural and chemical industries (Portney, 1992). Organic diets expose consumers to fewer pesticides associated with human disease (Forman et al, 2012).
Adopt the precautionary principle which states, that if there is a suspected risk of herbicides/pesticides causing harm to the public, or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those recommending the use of these substances (Read & O’Riordan, 2017). Thus, eat fresh locally produced organic foods to optimize health.
Aune, D., Giovannucci, D., Boffetta, P., Fadnes, L.T., Keum, N., Norat, T., Greenwood, D.C., Riboli, E., Vatten, L.J., & Tonstad, S. ( 2017). Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality—a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International Journal of Epidemiology, 46(3), 1029–1056, https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyw319
Butler, G. Stergiadis, s., Seal, C., Eyre, M., & Leifert, C. (2011). Fat composition of organic and conventional retail milk in northeast England. Journal of Dairy Science. 94(1), 24-36.http://dx.doi.org/10.3168/jds.2010-3331
Davis, D. R., Epp, M. D., & Riordan, H. D. (2004). Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops, 1950 to 1999. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23(6), 669-682. http://www.chelationmedicalcenter.com/!_articles/Changes%20in%20USDA%20Food%20Composition%20Data%20for%2043%20Garden%20Crops%201950%20to%201999.pdf
Gomiero, T.; Pimentel, D.; Paoletti, M. G. (2011). Environmental Impact of Different Agricultural Management Practices: Conventional Vs. Organic Agriculture. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, 30(1-2), 95-124; http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07352689.2011.554355#tabModule
Lambert, C. (2015). If Food really better from the farm gate than super market shelf? New Scientist.228(3043), 33-37.
Lee, G., Kaya, A., Avanesov, A.S., Podolskiy, D.I., Song, E.J., Go, D-M., Jin, G-D., Hwang, J.Y., Kim, E.B., Kim, D-Y., & Gladyshev, V.N. (2017). Age-associated molecular changes are deleterious and may modulate life span through diet.Science Advances, 3(2), e1601833 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601833
Oliveira, A.B., Moura, C.F.H., Gomes-Filho, E., Marco, C.A., Urban, L., & Miranda, M.R.A. (2013). The Impact of Organic Farming on Quality of Tomatoes Is Associated to Increased Oxidative Stress during Fruit Development. PLoS ONE, 8(2): e56354. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0056354
Read, R. and O’Riordan, T. (2017). The Precautionary Principle Under Fire. Environment-Science and policy for sustainable development. September-October. http://www.environmentmagazine.org/Archives/Back%20Issues/2017/September-October%202017/precautionary-principle-full.html
Romagnolo, D. F. & Selmin, O.L. (2017). Mediterranean Diet and Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Nutr Today. 2017 Sep;52(5):208-222. doi: 10.1097/NT.0000000000000228. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29051674
Wills, A. (2017). There is evidence organic food is more nutritious. New Scientist,3114, p53.
Wilson, L.F., Antonsson, A., Green, A.C., Jordan, S.J., Kendall, B.J., Nagle, C.M., Neale, R.E., Olsen, C.M., Webb, P.M., & Whiteman, D.C. (2017). How many cancer cases and deaths are potentially preventable? Estimates for Australia in 2013. Int J Cancer. 2017 Oct 6. doi: 10.1002/ijc.31088. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28983918
Health food advocates have long claimed that organic foods are better for your health because they have more nutrients and fewer pesticides than non organic or genetically modified grown foods. On the other hand, the USDA and agribusiness tend to claim that organically grown foods have no additional benefits. Until now, much of the published research appeared inconclusive and meta-analysis appeared to indicate that there are no health benefits from organic as compared to non organic foods although organic foods did reduce eczema in infants (Dangour et al, 2010).
Food studies that have demonstrated no benefits of organic farmed foods as compared to non-organic or genetically modified crops should be viewed with skepticism since many of these studies have been funded directly or indirectly by agribusiness. On the other hand, independently funded research studies have tended to demonstrate that organic foods are more beneficial than non-organic foods. Sadly, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and agribusiness are highly interdependent as the USDA both regulates and promotes agricultural products. On the one hand the USDA’s mission is “To expand economic opportunity through innovation, helping rural America to thrive; to promote agriculture production” and on the other hand “Enhance food safety by taking steps to reduce the prevalence of food borne hazards from farm to table, improving nutrition and health by providing food assistance and nutrition education and promotion. (For more discussion on the conflict of interest between agribusiness and the USDA, see Michael Pollan’s superb books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifest).
Historically, most nutritional studies have investigated the nutritional difference or pesticide residue between organic and non-organically farmed. Many studies have shown that organic grown foods have significantly lower pesticide residues than non organic foods (Baker et al, 2002; Luc, 2006). Even though agribusiness and the USDA tend to state that the pesticide residues left in or on the food are safe and non-toxic and have no health consequences, I have my doubts. Human beings accumulate pesticides just like tuna fish accumulates mercury—frequent ingesting of very low levels of pesticides residue may result in long term harmful effects. One way to measure if there is an effect of organic, non organic or genetically modified grown foods or residual pesticides is to do a long term follow up and measure the impact over the lifespan of the organism. This is difficult with human beings; since, it would take 50 or more years to observe the long term effects. Nevertheless, the effects of organically grown foods versus non-organically grown foods upon lifespan, fertility and stress resistance has now been demonstrated with fruit flies.
The elegant research by Chhabra R, Kolli S, Bauer JH (2013) showed that when fruit flies were fed either organic bananas, potatoes, soy or raisins, they demonstrated a significant increase in longevity, fertility and stress resistance as compared to eating non-organic bananas, potatoes, soy and raisins. In this controlled study, the outcome data is stunning. Below are some of their results reproduced from their article, “Organically Grown Food Provides Health Benefits to Drosophila melanogaster.”
Figure 1. Longevity of D. melanogaster fed organic diets. Survivorship curves of female fruit flies fed diets made from extracts of potatoes, raisins, bananas or soybeans (grey: conventional food; black: organic food; statistically significant changes (p,0.005) are indicated by asterisks).Median survival times of flies on conventional and organics food sources, respectively, are: potatoes: 16 and 22 days (,38% longevity increase,p,0.0001); soybeans: 8 and 14 days (,75% longevity increase, p,0.0001).doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052988.g001. Reproduced from Chhabra R, Kolli S, Bauer JH (2013).
Figure 2. Daily egg-laying of flies exposed to organic diets. Egg production of flies fed the indicated food was determined daily. Shown are the averages of biological replicates; error bars represent the standard deviation (grey: conventional food; black: organic food; statistically significant changes (p,0.005) are indicated by asterisks; p,0.0001 for all food types). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052988.g002. Reproduced from Chhabra R, Kolli S, Bauer JH (2013).
Figure 3. Starvation tolerance of flies raised on organic diets. Survivorship curves of female flies raised for 10 days on the indicated food sources. Flies were then transferred to starvation media and dead flies were counted twice daily (grey: conventional food; black: organic food; statistically significant changes (p,0.005) are indicated by asterisks). Median survival times of flies on conventional and organics food sources, respectively, are: potatoes: 6 and 24 hours (p,0.0001); bananas: 24 and 48 hours (p,0.0001). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052988.g003. Reproduced from Chhabra R, Kolli S, Bauer JH (2013)
This elegant study demonstrated the cumulative impact of organic versus non-organic food source upon survival fitness. It demonstrated that non-organic foods decreased the overall health of the organism which may be due to the lower levels of essential nutrients, presence of pesticides or genetic modified factors.
The take home message of their research is: If you are concerned about your health, want to live healthier and longer, improve fertility and resist stress, eat organically grown fruits and vegetable. Although this research was done with fruit flies and human beings are not fruit flies since we eat omnivorously, it may still be very relevant especially for children. As children grow the ingestion of non-organic foods may cause a very low level nutrient malnutrition coupled with an increased exposure to pesticides. The same concept can be extended to meats and fish. Eat only meat from free ranging animals that have been fed organic grown foods and not been given antibiotics or hormones to promote growth.
Baker, B.P., Benbrook, C.M., & Groth III, E., & Lutz, K. (2002). Pesticide residues in conventional, integrated pest management (IPM)-grown and organic foods: insights from three US data sets. Food Additives and Contaminants, 19(5) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02652030110113799
Chhabra R, Kolli S, Bauer JH (2013) Organically Grown Food Provides Health Benefits to Drosophila melanogaster. PLoS ONE 8(1): e52988. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052988 http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0052988
Dangour, A.D., Lock, K., Hayter, A., Aikenhead, A., Allen, E., Uauy, R. (2010). Nutrition related health effects of organic foods: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr, 92,203–210. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/92/1/203.short
Luc, C., Toepel, K., Irish, R., Fenske, R.A., Barr, D.B., & Bravo, R. (2006). Organic Diets Significantly Lower Children’s Dietary Exposure to Organophosphorus Pesticides. Environ Health Perspect, 114(2), 260–263. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1367841/
Pollan, M. (2009). In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN: 978-0143114963
Pollan, M. (2006). The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN: 1594200823