By Wenjun Liu, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor
When it comes to organic foods, there are two commonly asked questions. The first is are they healthier and the second, are they safer than conventionally grown products.
Many of us used to believe organic foods had higher vitamin and mineral content. A recent systemic review on human studies found that there was no significant difference in vitamin and mineral content between organic and conventional plant or animal products, but a difference was noted in polyphenolic phytonutrient content. The study reported 19-69% higher levels of phytonutrients in organic foods as compared to conventional foods. Research has not yet identified why organic foods contain higher amounts of these disease-fighting factors.
When trying to decide between organic or conventional, there are a few things to consider. Organic foods tend to be harder to find and when you find them they are more expensive – up to 40% more than their conventional partner.
Another reason people might choose to consume organic produce is for a reduced likelihood of pesticide residue. Pesticide use is heavily regulated in the United States and you are not likely to find much residue, even on a conventional product. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes the “Dirty Dozen” annually. This list identifies particular plant products that you may want to consider buying organically, if you are concerned about chemicals. There is a companion “Clean Fifteen” list that includes products that normally contain very little pesticide residue.
Overall, aim for consumption of more whole, unprocessed plants and/or plant-based foods whether organic or conventional, because they contain abundant fiber, vitamins, and minerals.