This is a question I hear a lot of people asking and I hear a lot of people answering it wrongly.
Having worked for a while in the pesticide and veterinary medicines testing department of a local laboratory, I can confirm, there is a definite difference between organic food and non-organic food. I can also tell you, yes, it does make a difference to you.
I remember our head of department once talking about this and telling us firstly, that if you eat non-organic, always wash your fruit and vegetables and that some are better peeled due to the fact that they store pesticides in the peel. He went on to say that as for the “5 a day” thing, if you don’t eat organic, then see this recommendation as a maximum of 5 a day, this sounds strange but residues do build up, and many of them are known carcinogens.
Organic isn’t only about not using pesticides, yes, there are certain pesticides allowed at low levels in organic food but the way in which they are grown is very different there’s, more to it as you will read below.
Why is Organic Better?
A huge study was published earlier this year in the British Journal of Nutrition. It shows that organic meat and dairy do in fact contain around 50% more omega-3 fatty acids. The reason, organically reared animals eat grasses that are rich in omega-3s. This information comes from over 200 different studies plus US research. Omega-3s are known to reduce cardiovascular diseases, they also improve development and function, including immune function.
Studies also prove that organic crops have around 50% more anthocyanins and flavanols when compared to non-organically grown crops. Consuming these has been linked to many benefits, one of these being that they have anti-inflammatory effects. Flavanols, mostly found in fruit and vegetables can protect cells from damage which in turn helps the body fight disease.
The Soil Association reviewed 400 published papers comparing organic and non-organic foods and have reported that organic crops were higher in essential minerals, phytonutrients (see note 1 below) and vitamin C.
It has been researched and shown that an organic serving of spinach, lettuce, potatoes, carrots or cabbage will provide the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, this is not so for non-organic servings of the same. This same report shows that organic fruits and vegetables have as much as 27% more vitamins C, 21.1% more iron, 29.3% more magnesium, 13.6% more phosphorus and 18% more polyphenols (see note 2).
Why do Organic Crops Have Higher Levels of Antioxidants and Other Beneficial Compounds?
Organic crops are exposed to far more stresses than non-organic crops, this includes attack from insects. Plants form compounds to deal with this stress. For example; take the beloved carrot, the fly lands on a non-organic carrot, the farmer sprays with pesticides to combat this. With the organic carrot, what happens is, the fly lands on the carrot, the carrot has to look after itself and so it produces compounds such as polyacetylenes, these taste bitter and so the fly leaves. This compound produced to ward off flies is good for us, it has been shown to reduce inflammation and the risk of cancer. In other words, organic farming builds up the plants ability to manufacture important nutirents such as polyphenols and antioxidants.
Note 1: Phytonutrients are plant compounds such as enzymes, antioxidants and bioflavanoids Note 2: Polyphenols are plant compounds such as bioflavonoids, flavonols and pycnogenols. They are anti-inflammatory and have benefits such as allergy, arthritis, heart disease and cancer protection.