Normally when we are in the store eyeing the organic tomatoes in comparison to their cheaper counterparts, we only really consider paying more because we desire a food without synthetic chemical pesticides and herbicides. Perhaps equally important are the natural compounds that are higher in organic food according to studies. Yes, that tomato may be more expensive, but did you know that it has higher levels of antioxidant and antioxidant activity compounds including polyphenols, vitamin C, lycopene, quercetin, and kaempferol? The fruits sometimes supplied double that of their non-organic counterparts.1 This is just a few of the vast group of plant compounds which have been studied extensively for their health-supporting benefits, especially in herbs and superfoods such as berries.2*
Compared to conventionally grown produce, organic produce has been found to have about 50 percent higher amounts of antioxidant activity flavonoids such as anthocyanidins, and flavonols, according to a large meta-analysis which reviewed over 300 studies.3 These beneficial compounds are known as secondary metabolites and they are unique and ubiquitous to the entire plant kingdom. Plants manufacture these compounds in response to their environment, and the conditions of cultivation have been shown to impact the levels of these compounds. In contrast to the animal kingdom, plants cannot move in the sense that they are unable to run from their predators. Fortunately, plants are chemists and are highly adapted to produce protective compounds, and these same compounds also happen to be beneficial to our health, and especially our gut health4. Although prevalent in fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices naturally have much higher levels, and the unique combination is the key to understanding how many herbs and spices support our health.*
Organic plants are the warriors of the plant kingdom in that they cannot rely upon herbicides and pesticides to protect them during their growth. The more hostile environment in which they are cultivated triggers a cascade of genes with a consequent increase in beneficial compounds. Plants definitely subscribe to the philosophy of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Not only do organic plants have to work harder to protect themselves, they also grow slower since they are not flooded with nitrates. Conventionally grown plants are often given high-nitrate fertilizers, which are essentially plant junk food. Since nitrates are the building blocks of the plant itself, the conventional plants grow much quicker than their organic counterparts. The slower growth of the organic plants allows more time for the plant to produce and accumulate higher levels, and diversity, of the beneficial secondary metabolites.*
A comprehensive study of the Ayurvedic herb known as Gotu Kola compared organic versus conventional cultivation methods and found that the organic material was higher in asiatic acid, a key compound for memory support. Furthermore, the organically cultivated Gotu Kola showed the best memory enhancing activity when given to animals in comparison to the plants grown using pesticides.5*
1. Aurelice B. et al; The Impact of Organic Farming on Quality of Tomatoes Is Associated to Increased Oxidative Stress during Fruit Development. PLoS One. 2013; 8(2)
2. Banu Bayram et al; Breakthroughs in the Health Effects of Plant Food Bioactives: A Perspective on Microbiomics, Nutri(epi)genomics, and Metabolomics. J Agric Food Chem. 2018 Oct 17;66(41):10686-10692.
3. Marcin Baranski et al; Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature
review and meta-analyses. Br J Nutr. 2014 Sep 14; 112(5): 794–811.
4. Wendy Russell et al; Plant secondary metabolites and gut health: the case for phenolic acids. Proc Nutr Soc 2011 Aug;70(3):389-96.
5. Rupa D.Bhattacharya et al;Phytochemical and pharmacological evaluation of organic and non-organic cultivated nutritional Centella asiatica collected after different time intervals of harvesting. South African Journal of Botany Volume 112, September 2017, Pages 237-245