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The Organic Garden: A Nutritional Powerhouse
Over the last decade, many consumers have switched from eating traditional produce to eating produce that has been organically grown. Put simply, organically grown produce is free from pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers. The most common reasons that people make the switch to organic produce are health-related namely less exposure to chemical toxins and better nutrition of organic foods. But is organic produce really healthier than traditionally grown produce? Yes, in more ways than one. This has been proven time and time again in dozens of clinical studies.
The first benefit of organic produce is that these foods are free from hazardous chemicals and pesticides. Eating organic foods produced without pesticides and insecticides has numerous health benefits for consumers. In fact, the amount of pesticide residue found in the urine of children who eat conventional foods is 6 times higher than those who eat organic foods (Curl 2002). These chemicals are proven to increase the likelihood for cancer, leukemia, respiratory infections and atherosclerosis.
But even when accounting for the lack of pesticide exposure, organic foods remain nutritionally superior compared to traditional foods. Dozens of studies have proven this fact these are just a few examples. Blueberries that are organically grown have 50% greater concentrations of antioxidants and plant based nutrients called
phytonutrients than those grown with conventional methods (Wang 2008). Similarly, the superior nutrition of organic foods was also shown in oranges with organically grown oranges having more antioxidants and ascorbic acid (Tarozzi 2006). Soups made with organic ingredients have 6 times more salicylic acid than traditional soups (Baxter 2001).
Salicylic acid is a natural anti-inflammatory and is thought to lower risk of inflammatory diseases such as atherosclerosis and colorectal cancer. Vitamin and mineral levels in organic foods average about 25% greater versus foods produced by traditional methods. One study took measures one step further and demonstrated that the extract from organically grown strawberries actually reduced the growth of cancer cells compared to that of traditionally produced strawberries (Olsson 2006). Not only do organic foods reduce the risk of cancer with high antioxidant levels, but the cancer fighting properties of these foods have actually been proven. On top of these benefits, men who consume organic products even have better sperm quality versus men who eat conventional foods (Jensen 1996, Juhler 1999).
Organic milk contains greater amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). These substances play considerable roles in reducing risk of heart disease, cancer, blood pressure, and atherosclerosis. Organic beef also has fewer calories, lower saturated fat levels, and more omega-3's and CLA.
Overall, it appears that the primary nutritional advantage of organic foods besides the fact that there is no pesticide exposure with these foods is that they contain high levels of antioxidants even greater than the high levels already contained in conventional fruits and vegetables. This appears to be true for the majority of organic foods even including herbs, spices and
aloe vera juices. This is not to mention that those who juice with organic fruits and vegetables are getting a nutritional bang for the buck and glass of potent and natural
liquid vitamins. Antioxidants from all natural and organic sources have important functions in the body that protect it from damage.
Free radicals are produced during the normal day-to-day process of oxygen metabolism. When free radical levels are elevated, the body is susceptible to health problems. Antioxidants function to remove these free radicals from the circulation, which can cause damage to cells throughout the body, hasten tumor growth, and accelerate aging. Antioxidants offer protection from free radicals by repairing molecules that have suffered damage and sometimes by removing the free radicals themselves. There is much research that shows people who eat a diet rich in antioxidants have lower risks for many chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol.
Overall, the decision to switch over to organic foods is a smart one. The combination of lower pesticide exposure, which lowers cancer risk, combined with greater antioxidant intake which further reduces cancer and cardiovascular disease risk demonstrates that there is a decided health advantage to consuming organically grown foods compared to traditional foods.
Dr. Linda Kennedy MS SLP ND
Baxter GJ, Graham AB, Lawrence JR, Wiles D, Paterson JR. Salicylic acid in soups prepared from organically and non-organically grown vegetables. Eur J Nutr. 2001 Dec;40(6):289-92.
Curl CL. Elgethun K. Organophosphorus pesticide exposure of urban and suburban pre-school children with organic and conventional diets. Environ Health Perspect 2002;111:337-82.
Jensen TK, Giwercman A, Carlsen E, Scheike T, Skakkebaek NE. Semen quality among members of organic food associations in Zealand, Denmark. Lancet 1996;347:1844.
Juhler RK, Larsen SB, Meyer O, et al. Human semen quality in relation to dietary pesticide exposure and organic diet. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 1999;37:415-23.
Olsson ME, Andersson CS, Oredsson S, Berglund RH, Gustavsson KE. Antioxidant levels and inhibition of cancer cell proliferation in vitro by extracts from organically and conventionally cultivated strawberries. J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Feb 22;54(4):1248-55.
Tarozzi A, Hrelia S, Angeloni C, Morroni F, Biagi P, Guardigli M, Cantelli-Forti G, Hrelia P. Antioxidant effectiveness of organically and non-organically grown red oranges in cell culture systems. Eur J Nutr. 2006 Mar;45(3):152-8. Epub 2005 Aug 12.
Wang SY, Chen CT, Sciarappa W, Wang CY, Camp MJ. Fruit quality, antioxidant capacity, and flavonoid content of organically and conventionally grown blueberries. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Jul 23;56(14):5788-94. Epub 2008 Jul 1.