Wednesday, August 27, 2014

SCHALGECK: Go organic? You decide

By JOHN SCHLAGECK, Kansas Farm Bureau | 1/17/2014

Do organically produced foods have higher nutritional value?

According to international, national and regional research studies the nutritional value of organic crops compared to conventional crops reveals little if any differences.

Colorado State University (CSU) researchers compared vitamin content of organically and conventionally grown vegetables (carrots and broccoli). They found no statistically significant differences.

Other research from CSU focused on growing potatoes using four different farming techniques under the same growing conditions: an intensive high-chemical system; a moderate conventional system; customary organic farming and virgin organic production. Nine minerals and seven vitamins were analyzed and no clear differences were discovered.

Another U.S. study found more soluble iron in conventionally grown spinach but the proportion of the soluble iron available to consumer’s system was somewhat higher for both spinach and peppers grown with compost and manure.

In overseas studies, Norwegian research found conventionally grown carrots contained more beta-carotene, more magnesium and more manganese. The organic carrots had more aluminum. When carrots of the same variety were compared, the only difference was a higher level of carotenoids in the conventionally grown carrots.

A German study discovered lower levels of nitrate in carrots, beets and potatoes grown with manure but the differences were minute under good storage conditions. Stressful storage conditions enhanced the difference.

Consumers can conclude from such findings that people who do not buy organically grown fruits and vegetables can find equally good products with equal nutrition at supermarkets and roadside stands. It also means people who wish to eat organically grown fruits and vegetables should do so.

Bottom line — differing farming systems produce virtually no difference in the nutritional value of the crops. The variety, or strain, of the carrots and potatoes grown appears to have a bigger impact on their nutrient value than organic production methods.

It’s no secret, plant breeders have long advocated that fruits, vegetables and grains require three main nutrients — nitrogen, phosphate potash and trace minerals in varying amounts according to the plant species. If a plant is sorely lacking in one of these nutrients, it will not grow. If it has access to these nutrients, it will grow into the crop its heredity determines and will pass along the nutrients its heredity intends.

Translation — for a healthy diet eat plenty of fruit and vegetables each day, regardless of how they were grown. Doing so will probably mean a person eats more fiber and that is healthy. It also means less room for fatty foods that are one of the major contributions to poor health.

Eating five fruits and vegetables per day reduces our risk for heart disease and cancer. Researchers tell us this health-enhancing effect is derived from the high levels of antioxidant chemicals in the fruits and vegetables.

So much of this research on conventional versus organically grown food has demonstrated little nutritional differences. In our society consumers have a choice. It is an individual decision.

The choice is yours.

John Schlageck is a Farm Bureau commentator, specializing in agriculture and rural Kansas.

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