Looking to up your vitamin C intake, or increase antioxidant content in your daily diet? New findings from researchers in the University of Ceara, Brazil, indicate that organic tomatoes may be a more effective means to do so than consuming tomatoes grown on typical farms.
The science team – led by Maria Raquel Alcantara Miranda – states that tomatoes from non-organic farms are under more stress than those grown in ordinary farms, and they suspect that the increased stress may be what reduces the presence of certain nutrients in these plants. However, it is noteworthy that the organic tomatoes in their study tended to be as much as 40 percent smaller than the non-organic kind.
In this instance, "stress" means a greater amount of plant immune system chemicals due to the enhanced risk of environmental predators and disease. A follow up report from the Globe and Mail, which includes an interview with one of the study authors, notes that more defensive chemicals may be a good thing for humans that can be found in larger, stressed tomatoes.
Nonetheless, there was more vitamin C in the smaller tomatoes in the international study.
"The contents in phenolic compounds and in vitamin C were 139 percent and 55 percent higher, respectively. That is quite a lot," Laurent Urban of France's University of Avignon told the news provider.
In a report from NPR, University of Florida tomato researcher Harry Klee speculated that it was the size – not the farming techniques – that accounts for the greater nutrients in organic tomatoes.
"The modern varieties [of tomatoes] are designed to produce very large numbers of fruits," he told the news provider. But the nutrients don't increase alongside the size of the fruit. Instead, he said, they are reduced. "If I take two plants on conventional farms and reduce the fertilizer levels on one, I'll get 40 percent smaller fruits with higher nutrient content."
The pluses and minuses of organic food
According to The Mayo Clinic, the jury is still out as to whether organic foods are truly better for one's health than ordinary vegetables. Some people are willing to shoulder the slightly extra cost and quicker spoilage time in light of the lack of pesticides and food additives used to grow them.
Meanwhile, NPR reported on a meta-study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that was released in September of 2012, which explained that there's no hard evidence showing the organic fruits and vegetables contain more health benefits than the ordinary kind. Using organic fertilizer and eschewing pesticides could have numerous benefits for the environment, but may not necessarily produce products that will be healthier for humans.