An Apple Is an Apple – Or Is It?

Posted in Mixed Nuts on October 9th, 2009 by MadDog
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One apple is pretty much the same as any other, eh? Except for the taste, of course. Ah, but organically grown  apples are much  better for you, right?

Certainly, the use of nasty chemicals to make produce look prettier, increase production yields, reduce infestation and generally increase the producers’ profits should be examined closely. The benefits and perils of these practices are still debated.

What has bothered me for some time is the manner in which the claims of benefits from organic production methods have expanded to include the nutritional value of the food produced. I found an interesting letter in the 7 August 2009 issue of Science,  the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The letter, titled Organics: Evidence of Health Benefits Lacking,  began by stating the familiar explanations why organically grown produce might be more nutritious:  natural fertilisers are absorbed more slowly and conventional pesticides disrupt nutrition absorption or synthesis, potentially lowering the nutrient levels.

The cover of Science, 7 August 2009

The article* then discusses a systematic survey of scientific literature over three decades, including very recent material, that demonstrated that there are neither consistent nor meaningful differences in the levels of nutrients between conventionally grown and organically grown produce.

There is an FDA/USDA requirement (we’re talking the U S of A here, folks) that requires that a nutrient in a product must be at least 10% greater than its comparison product to allow a claim of “more nutritional”.  For organics, this is not the case.

What does make a difference is the cultivar or variety. Some varieties of produce are more nutritional than others. If you can get the information, you can achieve a much better nutritional outcome by choosing the most nutritious varieties.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not trashing organically grown foods. Frankly, I don’t see much difference in the supermarket, except for price. However, I’m wondering what chemicals were used on the Non-Organic side of the aisle. Nevertheless, I am not swayed by claims of getting more nutrition for my buck from the organically grown stuff.

Here in Madang we don’t have to worry about organic vs. non-organic. Everything  is organic. If you don’t find a worm or two in your lettuce, you wonder what’s going on. There’s an old story about how you can tell how long someone has lived in PNG:

A NEWBIE, upon finding maggots in his banana, shrieks and throws it into the bush.
SOMEONE WHO’S BEEN AROUND FOR A WHILE carefully pulls the maggoty bits off and eats the rest.
AN OLD HAND sees the maggots and says, “Thanks, Lord, for the extra protein.”

I walked over to the market for a few minutes this morning to get some shots of our wonderful produce. Here’s a little gallery:

Bon appétit.

* Organics: Evidence of Health Benefits Lacking, Science,   7 August 2009, Kate Clancy, Michael Hamm, Allen S. Levine, Jennifer Wilkins. Any misunderstandings or errors of interpretation of the letter are my fault. You can email correspondence to aslevine@umn.edu

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