Two separate studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition have found that organic fruit and vegetable crops, as well as meat and dairy, have significant nutritional differences compared to non-organic food.
Fruit and veg
Organic fruit and veg crops have up to 60% more antioxidants than their non-organic counterparts, as well as lower concentrations of pesticide residues and some heavy metals like cadmium*. The research findings about antioxidants are especially exciting as there is evidence that these compounds may offer protection against cancers, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The research didn’t look at the reasons why organic fruit and veg is nutritionally different, but some speculate the answer may be down to the fact that organic avoids the use of pesticides: it seems that plants may create antioxidants as a defence mechanism to protect themselves against bugs and pests that would otherwise want to munch on them. Whatever your reasons for doing so, by choosing organic fruit and veg you’ll be getting more in every bite when it comes to nutrient and antioxidant density.
Meat and dairy
Organic meat and dairy are also nutritionally different, offering more omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic. Though research is ongoing into the potential benefits of omega-3s, they have been linked to reduced risk of heart disease, cardiovascular disease and depression, among others**. What’s more, as the richest sources of omega-3s are found in oily fish, finding other sources of this potentially valuable fat may help reduce pressure on our oceans.
As well as omega-3s, organic dairy - not just milk, but also butter and cheese - has higher concentrations of some vitamins and minerals. These include iron and Vitamin E, and more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers and obesity. Meanwhile, organic meat is lower in two saturated fats that are linked with heart disease.
The reason organic dairy has more nutrients is simple: it’s all down to what cows eat, and what organic cows eat most of is grass. Organic cows are naturally free range, foraging in fields as much as the weather allows - usually over 200 days every year. Grass, and particularly clover, gives cows the nutrition they need to produce more nutrient-dense meat and milk. An extra bonus is that planting clover can also help organic farmers fix nitrogen into the soil, which helps crops and grass grow without the need for synthetic fertilisers.
Can you taste the organic difference?
Organic is nutritionally different from non-organic, but what about taste? Taste and flavour is of course subjective, but lots of people think organic tastes great! The Soil Association has cited taste as one of the top five reasons people choose organic, and a recent survey for Organic. Feed Your Happy found that 78% of people who buy organic say it tastes fantastic***. They aren’t alone - Jamie Oliver is a huge fan of organic chicken, and vegetarian cook and food writer Anna Jones is all about organic veg: “For me, the shapes, flavours and colours of vegetables are at their best when they are organic”, says Anna.
Chef and award-winning author and food writer Gill Meller is also among the growing number of chefs who thinks organic tastes different. As Gill says, "Many of the things I really enjoy eating don’t taste the same as they used too. The production of simple everyday ingredients such as milk and eggs has become so intensive that flavour (as well as welfare) nearly always come a poor second after economics.
“I’ll always choose organic milk and eggs because they taste so much better. This is because the cows and chickens that have produced them have been allowed to live a natural life. The more natural something can be, the better it tastes, which is good news for everyone and everything.”
But don’t take our word for it… give organic a try and see if you can taste the difference!
* British Journal of Nutrition | Newcastle University October 2015
** British Journal of Nutrition | Newcastle University February 2016
*** OTB | Kantar Millward Brown Study October 2018, base – 2k adults