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Are organically grown fruits and vegetables nutritionally better than conventional ones? Revisiting the question with new eyes

Desjardins, Y.
Acta horticulturae 2016 no.1137 pp. 187-200
agroecosystems, antioxidants, chemical elements, chemistry, chronic diseases, developed countries, diabetes, digestive system, fossil fuels, horticulture, humans, industry, intestinal microorganisms, meta-analysis, neurodegenerative diseases, obesity, organic production, physicians, polyphenols, prebiotics, vegetables
Over the last 100 years, agricultural practices have changed tremendously, depending heavily on fossil fuels and external inputs to boost yields. During this time, we have relied on the new knowledge of chemistry to simplify agricultural ecosystems and have lost, by doing so, the feedback loops and retroaction capacity of these complex biological systems. Likewise, the diet of humans living in industrialized countries has been profoundly simplified over the last decades, a phenomenon that has led to a dramatic surge in the incidence of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. As for agriculture, clinicians and medical doctors have looked at pharmacological approaches to cure these civilization diseases. The promotion of antioxidants as miracle supplements to the diet by the industry illustrates this fact. Unfortunately, this simplistic approach does not stand the strict test of system biology. This is why organic horticulture is being promoted as a more sustainable and healthy method of producing commodities. Recent reviews and meta-analysis show that organically grown commodities accumulate more or less 12 to 15% more polyphenols than conventional ones. Yet, the health significance of this increase in polyphenols/antioxidants is questionable. These molecules appear to modulate the gut microbiota and thus display prebiotic properties. It remains to be seen if this difference is sufficient to exert a significant effect on the gut ecology and the ensuing beneficial health outcomes. The choice of consuming organically grown commodities thus remains a philosophical one of sustainable nutrition.