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Organic vs. conventional: Dr. Elizabeth Pavka helps a reader determine the nutritional difference between two growing methods.

Q: I read your article in the December/ January issue of New Life Journal. I'm very interested in whether organic foods really are more nutritious. My girlfriend and I discuss this topic sometimes, and we disagree about whether buying organic is the way to go, since organics are more expensive. What's the scoop on this?

--Blaine M., Arden, NC

A: Thanks for your question, Blaine. I'm certain many people wonder about this, too. The debate over whether organically grown foods are really more nutritious has waged for years. In 2003, Marian Burros, noted columnist at The New York Times, wrote an editorial titled "Is Organic Food Provably Better?" (1).

For many years, research didn't document that organically grown foods were more nutritious. However, a growing body of research is beginning to answer her question in the affirmative.

Researchers at the Long-Term Research on Agricultural Systems Project at the University of California-Davis grew tomatoes conventionally and organically for ten years--from 1994-2004. They carefully stored the tomatoes to preserve their composition. In 2004, researchers measured the levels of two flavonoids: quercetin and kaempferol. Comparison showed that the levels of flavonoids increased over time in tomatoes grown organically, but remained stable in the conventionally grown tomatoes. The 10-year average of quercetin and kaempferol was 79 percent and 97 percent higher, respectively, in the organically grown tomatoes (2).

A four-year European Union study, funded at a cost of $25 million, raised fruits, vegetables, and cows on adjacent organic and nonorganic sites at a 72S-acre farm near Newcastle University in England and other places in Europe. Researchers found that: 1) organic fruits and vegetables contained up to 40 percent more antioxidants; 2) organic produce had higher levels of iron, copper and zinc; and 3) milk from organic herds contained up to 90 percent more antioxidants.

Professor Carlo Leifert, coordinator of the project, said the differences were so marked that organic produce would help to increase the nutrient intake of people not eating the recommended five portions a day of fruit and vegetables. "If you have just 20 percent more antioxidants and you can't get your kids to do five a day, then you might just be okay with four a day," he observed (3).

If you're a person who already buys organic foods, these research studies confirm the nutritional wisdom in doing that. If you don't buy organic foods, here are three related "food for thought" questions and my answers.

First, what is not found, or at least found in much lower levels, in organic foods that might make them a good investment in your long-term health? Answer: Pesticides and herbicides. Certainly, consuming fewer pesticides and herbicides can improve your brain function, immune system and fertility, in fact all aspects of your health. For more information, check out the Environmental Working Group's website ( where you'll find their "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce." That list contains 45 fruits and vegetables ranked from highest to lowest in pesticide levels. Their top "Dirty Dozen" include peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, grapes (imported), pears, spinach and potatoes. If money is a concern and you can't go 10 percent organic, you could lower your exposure to pesticides by purchasing those 12 foods as organics.

Second, if more people bought more organic foods, would the price go down? Answer: Our free market system works in such a way that we usually get more of what we buy. We "cast our vote" for what we want more of. Then the increase in supply of organic foods could certainly/possibly bring clown the price.

And third, let's assume that the process of growing organic foods is healthier for the farmer, the shipper, the grocery store produce worker, and the person eating the food. Let's also assume that if we're not spraying all those toxins into our environment, our soil, water and air will be healthier. Could the extra cost of organic foods be a wise, long-term investment in better health for everyone for generations to come-our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Answer: I'd shout a big "YES!" What about you?

Sources: (1) Marian Burros' article in The New York Times, F935A25754CoA9659CSB63; (2) Mitchell, A. E. et. al. "Ten-Year Comparison of the Influence of Organic and Conventional Crop Management Practices on the Content of Flavonoids in Tomatoes." J. Agric. Food Chem., 55 (15), 6154-6159, 2002 pulamed/17590007; (3) Four-year European Union study of organic foods,

Have a nutrition question?

E-mail your question(s) to Put "Nutrition Question" in the subject line and include your name (first name and last initial will do) and city of residence.

Columnist Elizabeth Pavka, Ph.D., RD, LD/N, a wholistic nutritionist with more than 27 years' experience, provides nutritional counseling for a wide variety of health issues. Dr. Parka helps her client prepare an individualized eating plan and often recommends vitamins and mineral supplements, digestive enzymes, probiotics, etc. that support health. She teaches classes, writes articles for local and national publications, consults with organizations about nutrition and wellness, and speaks before professional and lay audiences; she can be reached at 828-252-1406 or
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Author:Pavka, Elizabeth
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Feb 1, 2009
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