Question: Do organic foods contain more nutrients than conventionally grown foods?
Answer: According to a widely publicized study at Stanford University-probably not to any significant degree. Although several polls show that the majority of folks who regularly buy organic believe they are getting more nutrition from their fruits and veggies, there is scant scientific evidence to support this opinion.
I believe this is the wrong question to be asking-or rather, it's an irrelevant question. The primary reasons for buying organic foods have nothing to do with nutrition. There are distinct advantages, on both personal and societal levels, to choosing organic over conventional products. This has been true since the early days of organic farming. Here's a look at three benefits of buying organic products:
- Fewer pesticides. The Stanford study found that 38 percent of conventional produce had pesticide residue, as opposed to only 7 percent of organic produce. And yes, it all falls within the "safe" guidelines of the EPA, but wouldn't you rather limit your exposure?
- Healthier meat options. Another issue to consider is the matter of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in food animals. The Stanford study noted significantly lower levels of such bugs in organically raised livestock. If you're at all concerned about the specter of those organisms jumping to human genes-or the possible hazards of accumulated antibiotics-then organic meats are the way to go. Plus, organically raised animals usually live in more humane conditions, since organic husbandry is much more prevalent in non-factory farming scenarios.
- Environmentally conscious. Consider the difference between massive conventional super-farms and smaller organic operations in terms of their overall effects on the environment. The USDA defines organic farming thusly:"A production system that is managed ... to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity." Now isn't that where you want your food to come from, rather than an indifferent conglomerate that seeks only to wrest every penny from the land it occupies? I know what my choice is.
So if you're asking your organic foodstuffs to give you super-human nutrition, it seems that you're likely to be disappointed. But if you're looking to reduce your family's exposure to harmful pesticides and unknown antibiotics; and if you're concerned with replenishing and protecting the earth and diminishing harm to its creatures; then I think we can safely say that buying organic will take you down the right road.
Broccoli Cheddar Soup
As the winds of autumn start to stir, this simple but satisfying soup will warm you from the inside out.
2 Tbs. blood orange olive oil
2 large organic leeks, white part only, sliced and rinsed
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 cup fresh-squeezed organic orange juice
1 quart organic chicken broth
1 Tbs. microplaned organic orange zest
4 cups coarsely chopped organic broccoli
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. ground white pepper
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
- Put olive oil in large pot. Add leeks and cumin, and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add orange juice, broth, and zest, and bring to a boil. Add broccoli, salt, and pepper. Return to slight boil, and cook until broccoli is cooked through, but not mushy, about 6 minutes.
- Purée in batches in blender, and return to pot. Stir in cheddar cheese until melted. Serve warm.
PER SERVING: 138 cal; 6g pro; 8g total fat (4g sat fat); 11g carb; 13mg chol; 632mg sod; 2g fiber; 4g sugars
Grilled Eggplant with Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes
Use those last few precious tomatoes from the farmers' market for this homey Italian-inspired offering.
2 large organic eggplants, cut into 3/4 inch slices
1/2 cup organic olive oil, divided
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
4 large organic heirloom tomatoes, each cut into 8 wedges
1 large organic shallot, peeled and coarsely chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
4 large organic basil leaves, finely shredded
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Preheat grill to medium-high.
- Drizzle eggplant slices with 1/4 cup olive oil, and grill until nicely marked, but not soggy, about 3-4 minutes each side. Remove from grill, sprinkle with grated Parmesan, cover, and keep warm.
- Meanwhile, place tomato wedges and shallots on foil-lined baking sheet, drizzle with remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Roast in preheated oven until cooked through but still holding shape, about 15 minutes. Transfer to large saucepan, and keep warm.
- Arrange eggplant slices on long platter. Spoon roasted tomatoes on top, then shower with shredded basil leaves. Serve immediately.
PER SERVING: 386 cal; 7g pro; 29g total fat (5g sat fat); 29g carb; 4mg chol; 94mg sod; 12g fiber; 17g sugars
Don't forget-organic means no GMOs allowed. And while the biotech industry would have us believe that GMOs are perfectly safe, I'd rather avoid them (especially in the absence of any long-term studies on them). Wouldn't you?
Neil Zevnik is a private chef based in Los Angeles who is devoted to the proposition that "healthy" doesn't have to mean "ho-hum." He also writes for the Huffington Post and has his own website, neilzevnik.com.