Ah, summertime. When the living is easy, flip-flops are the norm, weekends are spent at the pool, and the tomatoes are extra fresh and delicious. Seriously, is there anything tastier than a tomato straight from the garden? While many of us are more likely to enjoy food from the garden or Farmer's market in the summer (especially those in areas with cold winters!), new research suggests that farm-fresh organics may be the way to go year-round.
A recent study out of the University of Barcelona found that organic tomatoes contain higher levels of phenolic compounds —organic molecules found in many veggies that have health benefits — than conventional tomatoes. Previous research has found that organic tomato juice and ketchup contain higher polyphenol content than juice and ketchup made from conventionally grown tomatoes, but this was the first time tomatoes were studied before being processed for tomato products. Polyphenols have been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular and degenerative diseases, and even some forms of cancer.
So why are the organic tomatoes so much better than traditionally farmed ones? It comes down to fertilizer, according to the study. Organic farming doesn't use nitrogenous fertilizers, and as a result, plants respond by activating their own defense mechanisms, which increases the levels of all antioxidants, study author Anna Vallverdú Queralt told ScienceDaily.
While interesting, registered dietitian and nutrition coach Alicia Rodriguez wasn't really surprised at what the researchers found, she says. However, the research is a good reminder of the importance of eating our fruits and vegetables.
"I recommend high-quality multivitamins to all my clients, but I remind them this is supplementing what we are missing in our diet," Rodriquez says. "I encourage them to eat a variety of colors and to consume nine to 11 servings of vegetables and fruit...mostly vegetables."
In fact, Rodriguez encourages her clients to buy and consume organic products as much as they can. Organic meat, eggs, and dairy, with no added hormones or antibiotics, will contain more "good" fats, such as two to four times more omega-3, which helps to reduce inflammation and is good for heart health and three to five times more CLA, which has been linked to long-term weight management and reduced cancer risks, than non-organic produce. In addition, organic produce is richer in antioxidant, including vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C, she says.
Besides being higher in nutrients and antioxidants, Rodriguez also recommends going organic to avoid pesticides and toxins.
"These pesticides and toxins can store in our fats cells and cause additional metabolic dysfunction, especially related to weight loss, thyroid, and sex hormones," she says.
If you don't have a lot of money to spend on organic foods, Rodriguez recommends starting by looking at the "Dirty Dozen" list of fruits and vegetables. Then choose the foods from the list that you eat the most.
"For example, I love peppers and spinach, and these are on my weekly shopping list," she says. "I always purchase these vegetables organic. The foods not listed on the Dirty Dozen list I buy conventional, but I always wash my vegetables and fruit before consumption. Make it a priority to invest in a $2 vegetable brush...it's worth the investment."
How much of the food you eat is organic? Do you buy according to the Dirty Dozen list? Do tell!