Many different studies have been done through the years concerning the nutritional content of organic foods. While the results are not definitive, there's good evidence that some foods give you more nutritional bang for your buck when you choose organics.
Johns Hopkins Research
A 2001 study done as part of a doctoral dissertation at Johns Hopkins University looked at studies that had been done up to the point looking at the nutritional content of organic foods.
In all, 41 studies involving field trials, greenhouse pot experiments, market basket surveys and surveys of farmers were looked at and compared. The most studied nutrients across those surveys included calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, beta carotene, and vitamin C. Many studies also looked at nitrates, which are not something you want in your food.
According to the study, there was significantly more vitamin C (27 percent), iron (21 percent), magnesium (29 percent) and phosphorus (13 percent) in the organic produce than in the conventionally grown vegetables. There were also 15 percent fewer nitrates in the organic vegetables.
The vegetables that had the biggest increases in nutrients between organic and conventional production were lettuce, spinach, carrots, potatoes and cabbages.
The Case of Wheat
A study published in October 2006 in ACS Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found no such difference in nutritional value when looking at organic wheat.
The German study looked at 44 different substances in wheat, including amino acids, sugars and metabolic substances, and found no significant difference in nutritional quality, though the environment impact of organic agriculture still makes choosing organics a positive option.
More on the Nutritional Content of Organic Foods
The Organic Trade Association has a good collection of information about organic nutritional studies on its website, including the Johns Hopkins study mentioned above. In addition to having more vitamins and minerals, some studies have shown that organic foods have more antioxidants than their conventional counterparts.
Rats fed organic foods were slimmer, had stronger immune systems and weighed less than rats given conventionally grown foods, according to one study. Of course, exposure to pesticides and other chemicals is also reduced when you buy organic foods.
Choosing Organics for Maximum Benefit
Many people want to try organic foods for health reasons or to protect the planet, but they might not have the budget to go 100 percent organic all at once.
If that's the case for you, you can still get the nutritional benefits of organic foods without spending your whole paycheck on food.
The first choice should be to buy organic for those foods that have greatly improved nutritional value based on the studies:
Other studies have shown that milk, oranges, peaches and other fruits are more nutritionally sound in their organic versions.
Another good rule of thumb is to start buying organically those foods that are sprayed with the most pesticides, so at least you know you are limiting your pesticide exposure with the conventionally grown produce you are buying.
The Environmental Working Group has developed a list of the 12 items that have the most pesticides used on them and should be purchased organic if you are going to buy them at all:
- Bell peppers
- Grapes (especially imported varieties)
On the other had, these 12 consistently have the lowest levels of pesticides, so if you have to cut back on your organic food purchases you can do so here without worry:
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas
In a sense, the jury is still out on the nutritional content of organic foods, but more and more studies suggest that eating organic foods brings you more vitamins and nutrients, better taste and a lower pesticide and chemical load in your body, not to mention putting less stress on the planet.