Next time you’re in the supermarket weighing
the glossy conventional fruit against the small, blotched organic alternative, consider this: organic fruits’ stunted size may be the signal of their nutritional prowess.
Various studies in recent years have shown that some organic fruits and vegetables have nutritional advantages over conventionally-grown produce. For instance, organic tomatoes contain more vitamins, and organic tomato juice has more phenolics, a class of molecules that promote the body’s own antioxidant response.
But it’s been unclear exactly how organic farming brings about these changes in fruit. Now a new study indicates that the secret is stress: While conventional fruits are coddled by synthetic fertilizers, organic plants have fewer minerals available to them—and they therefore produce fruit that’s higher in human-healthy compounds.
Unlike pesticide-laden conventional food, organic produce is more natural, healthier, and better for you…right? Organic food does contain less synthetic pesticides. But the natural pesticides that replace them can also have harmful effects. For example, the organic pesticide copper sulfate is more toxic than some synthetic pesticides, and it can cause genetic mutations, cancer, liver disease, and anemia. No matter what you choose to eat, both conventional and organic produce can expose you to low levels of pesticides. Before you forswear all greens, however, bear in mind that low pesticide levels aren’t the worst thing in the world.
At her Science Sushi blog on Scientific American’s network, Christie Wilcox explains that a little bit of pesticide exposure can actually be good for you.