Contributed by Jen Carmichael, August 21, 2014.
Whether your next RE:treat is amidst the verdant mountains of Telluride or the pristine waters of Carinthia in Austria, chances are, you are all up for giving body and mind a boost, leveraging the powerful benefits of sport like waterskiing, biking, paddle boarding and yoga, in the midst of the most beautiful setting ever to work out by: the Great Outdoors. While you are on your retreat, you will find a myriad of opportunities to sample the local cuisine and visit many organic restaurants. To date, various small-scale studies have harvested a seed of doubt in our minds: is organic really better, so much so that it is worth the (slightly) higher prices fetched by an organic mango, head of lettuce or punnet of berries? If you have always believed in the importance of serving up fresh, seasonal, zero-kilometre cuisine to your family, then you will be excited to hear of a new, large-scale study that has established something we always suspected: organic really is better for you!
The new study, published in July, 2014 in the British Journal of Nutrition, is the largest of its kind. It involved a review of 343 peer-reviewed publications comparing the nutritional content and safety of organic vs conventionally grown fruits, vegetables and grains. The research team employed cutting edge meta-analysis techniques to quantify differences between these two types of produce. Researchers made the following findings:
- Organic produce contains more antioxidants: Researchers found that plants raised on conventionally run fields normally have access to high levels of synthetic nitrogen, which leads them to produce sugars and starches. Therefore, the edible parts of the plant tend to have less nutrients and antioxidants than organically grown plants. Antioxidants are vital to a healthy nutritional regime because they help the body fight free radicals, which have been linked to everything from cancer to heart disease and premature ageing of the skin.
- Organic produce contains between 10 and 100 times less pesticide residues: Researchers revealed that pesticide residues were far more likely to be found in conventionally grown foods than in organic ones, since organic farmers refrained from utilising toxic, synthetic pesticides. While organically harvested crops can contain some pesticide residues, the amounts are between 10 and 100 times less than in conventional produce. Non-organic fruits were also found to have twice the amount of one particular metal: cadmium. Apparently, the key lies in the type of fertiliser used: some fertilisers used on conventional crops make cadmium more available to plant roots. This finding is vital, especially to those who follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Those who consume only plant-based foods often adopt this nutritional programme out of a respect animals and/or to obtain the many benefits it can bestow. These include easier weight maintenance, a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and much more. Yet high levels of toxicity in plant foods can lay a heavy burden not only on vegetarians, but also on those who consume the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. The researchers warned: “Cadmium accumulates in the human body (especially in the liver and kidneys) and therefore, dietary intake levels should be kept as low as possible.” They also stated that there was a considerably higher level of cadmium in fruits than in vegetables (75 per cent as compared to 32 per cent).
- Concentrations of proteins and amino acids are lower in organic crops: The scientists found (as expected) that organic crops have a slightly lower content of proteins, amino acids, nitrogen and nitrate/nitrite. They stated, however, that the difference was slight enough to hardly make any difference in terms of health benefits. Moreover, typical diets in the US and in Europe provide sufficient (often excessive) amounts of proteins and amino acids.
The results of the study definitely make a great case for pursuing the organic lifestyle. If you are on a budget or you have limited access to organic produce, make it a point to do your research and make a basic list of produce which should always be organic. Mind Body Green has an excellent list of ‘Dirty Dozen’ conventionally grown foods which should be avoided, since they are grown using high levels of pesticides.