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Why Organic Tomatoes Are Better, New Study

Organic tomatoes

Debate about whether organic tomatoes or other organic fruits and vegetables are better than conventionally grown produce has been ongoing and is often heated. Now a new study adds fuel to the fire, noting that organic tomatoes are better nutritionally, and here’s why.

Organic versus conventional tomatoes and produce

A search for arguments on both sides of the organic versus conventional produce debate reveals a wealth of pros and cons, risks and benefits on both sides. What appears to be true at this point in time is:

  • Not surprisingly, the debate is driven by politics and economics, which can color the opinions and facts on both sides of the debate
  • Organic produce typically costs more than conventionally grown foods, although the gap does appear to be closing. Individuals who do their own organic farming on small plots often find the cost is comparable or even lower
  • Studies show there is less pesticide residue on organically grown produce. Individuals who use conventionally grown produce can reduce some exposure to pesticides by thoroughly washing and/or peeling produce, but this can also result in a loss of nutrients.
  • Some research suggests organic produce has higher levels of nutrients, which is the case in the new study presented below.
  • The environmental impact is less with organic farming, including significantly less pollution of water, soil, and air with toxins and other chemicals, as well as exposure to same chemicals by farmers. Other environmental advantages related to soil erosion and water conservation are also associated with organic farming techniques.

Much of the controversy has centered around any difference in nutritional value between organic and conventional produce. In this latest study, scientists from the Federal University of Ceara, Brazil, conducted a comparison between the biochemical factors and weights of tomatoes grown on both organic and conventional farms.
They found the following:

  • Organic tomatoes were about 40% smaller than conventionally grown tomatoes
  • Organic tomatoes contained more compounds associated with stress resistance. That is, it appeared the plants had adapted to the greater stress associated with organic farming by boosting their production of certain compounds, such as sugars, vitamin C, lycopene, and other antioxidants.

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The bottom line, according to the authors, is that farmers should try to balance the amount of stress associated with farming techniques with their attempts to maximize their yields and produce size, rather than try to eliminate stress as a way to produce more product.

As for consumers, choosing between organic and conventionally grown produce is largely still a personal choice based on their values and needs.

In this study, organic tomatoes were better nutritionally, which is a significant finding but they were smaller. While smaller may be better in some cases, organic farmers will likely want to find a way to make their organic tomatoes and other produce better in size and yield as well.

National Pesticide Information Center
Oliveira AB 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): e56354

Image: Morguefile