Three significant benefits of organically grown plant-based foods

July 2014

A new meta-study on the differences in the nutritional quality and safety of organic versus conventional food identifies three significant benefits of organic plant-based foods – far fewer pesticide residues, about 50% less cadmium (a toxic heavy metal), and 20% to 40% higher levels of antioxidant polyphenols.

Demeter cornfield, Germany

The study (Baranski et al.) found 25 direct comparisons of cadmium in organic and conventional plant-based foods that included mean levels, sample sizes, and standard deviations/standard errors – all essential data to conduct a weighted (recommended) meta-analysis. Baranski et al. reports a statistically significant, 49% difference (lower) level in organic foods.

Baranski et al. conclude that there are significant differences in the nutritional quality of organic versus conventional plant-based foods, largely because of enhanced polyphenol levels.

There is, actually, considerable agreement on the presence, and even magnitude in most cases, of differences in nutrient levels in organic and conventional foods. The focus of debate has been and will likely remain the key question – Would increasing antioxidant intakes 20% to 40% in plant-based foods improve public health outcomes?

The Baranski-Study acknowledges that many questions remain about the bioavailability of plant-based antioxidants, how necessary they are at different life stages, and how inadequate intakes shift the burden of disease. But the view of Baranski et al is that the weight of evidence supports linkages between higher antioxidant intakes and improved health outcomes, despite inability to quantify such linkages or predict fully which factors drive them.

Baranski et al conclude that every effort should be made now to increase fruit and vegetable intakes, as well as the concentrations of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables. They also hope scientists will be given the resources needed to establish more precisely how, under what circumstances, and to what extent antioxidants in plant-based foods enhance positive health outcomes, for example, through organic farming and/or switching servings of fruits and vegetables to those that are more nutrient dense and deeply colored.

Why Are There Generally Higher Nutrient Levels in Organic Food?

Baranski et al. explains that the level of nitrogen available to plants, and the form in which nitrogen is supplied, plays a major role in driving antioxidant and other nutrient levels up or down. In general, the higher the nitrogen level, and the greater the percentage of nitrogen applied in a readily available form, the greater the risk of diluting, or lowering, the concentrations of health-promoting plant phytochemicals in plant-based foods.

This conclusion leads to a vital insight — how farmers feed their plants helps determine the nutritional profile of the food harvested from them.

The more nutritionally desirable profile of omega fatty acids in organic versus conventional milk (see paper in PLOS ONE) also can be largely explained by what dairy cows are fed – the higher the percentage of grass and legume pasture and forage-based feeds in the cow’s diet, the higher the level of health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids in her milk.

Despite many gaps in knowledge on how diets impact health, Baranski et al. share the view of most governments around the world that human health trajectories will be improved if people consume more servings of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables and whole grains, while avoiding excessive amounts of sugar, omega-6 heavy oils, and carbohydrates.

It seems that several fields of science are pointing towards a common theme applicable to plants, people, and cows – what and how we are fed helps determine how, and how well, we live.

Source & More: http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=12751

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