(Beyond Pesticides, July 6, 2007)

Organic fruit and vegetables may be better for the heart and general health than eating conventionally grown crops, according to new research from the University of California. A ten-year study comparing organic tomatoes with standard produce found that they have almost double the quantity of disease-fighting antioxidants called flavonoids.

Flavonoids help to prevent high blood pressure and thus reduce the likelihood of heart disease and strokes. They have also been linked with reduced rates of some types of cancer and dementia.

Alyson Mitchell, Ph.D., a food chemist at the University of California, Davis, and colleagues measured the amount of two flavonoidsquercetin and kaempferolin dried tomato samples that had been collected as part of a long-term study on agricultural methods. They found that on average the flavonoids were 79% and 97% higher, respectively, in the organic tomatoes than in the conventionally grown fruit. The study is due to be published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

New Scientist magazine reports that the different levels of flavonoids in tomatoes are probably due to the absence of synthetic fertilizers in organic farming. Flavonoids are produced as a defense mechanism that can be triggered by nutrient deficiency, such as a lack of nitrogen in the soil. The inorganic nitrogen in conventional fertilizer is easily available to plants and so, the researchers suggest, the lower levels of flavonoids may be caused by over-fertilization.

This new study adds to a growing amount of evidence that organic produce may have health benefits over conventionally grown produce. A 2006 study out of the University of Texas found that organically grown fruits and vegetables have higher levels of antioxidants as well as vitamins and minerals than their conventionally grown counterparts. Another University of California at Davis study, also by Dr. Mitchell, published in 2003 found greater nutritional attributes in organically grown food, which the authors believe may result from the lack of insecticides and herbicides used (see Daily News story).

Another 2003 study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, found additional benefits to eating organic by examining levels of metabolites of organophosphate pesticides in children who ate conventional foods compared with children who ate a diet of organic foods. Children with organic diets have significantly lower body burdens of toxic pesticides and their metabolites (see Daily News story).

TAKE ACTION: Eat organic food whenever possible. Look for the USDA Certified Organic Label when buying food for your family, grow your own produce and/or buy from a local farm that discloses their practices.