You’ve probably considered going organic for a host of reasons, but what about for weight loss?
Organic fruits and vegetables contain more nutrients, antioxidants and healthy plant compounds than conventionally grown produce.
More Nutrients, Better Weight?
While experts have debated for years whether organic foods really are more nutritious than their conventionally raised counterparts, last year a British Journal of Nutrition review of 343 studies concluded that on average, organic foods (both crops and packaged foods derived from those crops, like bread) contain higher concentrations of antioxidants than conventionally grown foods.
That’s because, while an organic apple and a conventionally grown apple may both contain the same number of vitamins and antioxidants, the organic apple is much smaller, meaning that it contains more of them per ounce, says study co-author Charles Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University's Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Why the size difference? The funny thing is, the reason may be because organic, nitrogen-rich fertilizer is so expensive, meaning that organic farmers can’t typically afford to over-fertilize their crops to the same extent that conventional farmers can, Benbrook says. And nitrogen is to plants what calories are to people, so when conventional plants get too much nitrogen, they do the same thing we do: They get big. However, their nutritional properties, like our muscles, don’t balloon with them.
“When produce is over-fertilized, the ratio of calories per antioxidant activity goes way up, ” Benbrook says. That means that bite per bite, you are typically getting fewer good-for-you nutrients and more calories (granted, probably not enough to wreck your diet) out of that conventionally raised, albeit bigger, apple, he says, versus the smaller organic variety.
Previous research from Newcastle University found that on average, organic fruits and vegetables contain 12 percent more healthy plant compounds – resveratrol and other polyphenols, for example – than conventionally grown produce. What’s more, research in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that flavonols, one of these beneficial plant compounds, may stabilize blood sugar levels, helping to keep appetite in check, while another such compound, resveratrol, has been shown to promote fullness. Some pesticides used in conventional farming, however, may reduce the level of resveratrol in plants.
So if vitamins and antioxidants aren’t what’s making that non-organic apple bigger, what is? Simple sugars and starches, which explains why conventional produce is oftentimes sweeter and juicier, Benbrook says.
His research shows that some organic fruits and vegetables contain 20, 30, even 40 percent more antioxidants per calorie than conventionally raised versions. “If you choose organic foods to hit your five-a-day produce requirement, it’s like you are getting a sixth serving without consuming any additional calories, ” Benbrook explains.
Still, just because an apple is organic doesn’t guarantee the farmer hasn’t piled on the nitrogen, thereby reducing its antioxidant concentrations while increasing its calories, Benbrook says. Some studies, including a 2012 review in the Annals of Internal Medicine, have found that organic and non-organic produce don't vary greatly in terms of nutrients. While, in general, organic crops may be more nutrient-dense than conventional crops, an organic seal isn’t proof they will be. It just proves the crops were grown without synthetic pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, genetic engineering or chemical fertilizers.