Organic really IS better

If you have any doubts about the value of organic foods vs. conventionally-grown foods, then take a look at the findings from a USDA--Yes, USDA--sponsored study.

In this study, the nutritional content of organic vs. conventionally-grown blueberries were compared. Ironically, these observations come from the USDA's Genetic Improvement of Fruits and Vegetables Laboratory of the Produce Quality and Safety Laboratory.

Their findings (all values expressed as weight per 100 grams fresh weight blueberries, or a bit less than 1/4 cup):

Total phenol content (e.g, flavonoids):

Organic: 319.3 mg
Conventional: 190.3 mg

Organic blueberries had 68% greater phenol content.

Total anthocyanins (an important class of flavonoids):

Organic: 131.2 mg
Conventional: 82.4 mg

Organic blueberries had 59% greater anthocyanin content.

Antioxidant capacity (ORAC):

Organic: 46.14 mg
Conventional: 30.8

Organic blueberries had 50% greater antioxidant capacity.

Flavonoids suspected to carry unusually potent health effects--malvidin, delphinidin, myricetin, and quercetin--were all contained in greater proportions in the organically-grown blueberries, also. These flavonoids are demonstrating pharmacologic-level health effects in preliminary studies.

Why a genetics laboratory? After all , the study findings came out heavily in favor of non-genetic, organic farming methods of growing produce. It certainly must have at least given pause to the vocal group within agriculture and the USDA that have long argued that organic produce is no different. I suspect that the laboratory will now try to recreate the nutritional value of organic through genetic manipulation of cultivars grown using conventional methods.

Regardless of the motivations behind the study, we see that there is no comparison: organic blueberries are superior in nutritional value to those grown with conventional pesticides and herbicides. While the study addressed only blueberries, the dramatic difference makes it likely that similar differences exist in other fruits and vegetables.

Coming on the Track Your Plaque website: An in-depth Special Report on the health effects of anthocyanins.

Comments (18) -

  • Anne

    8/16/2009 1:31:49 PM |

    Dear Dr Davis,

    A little off topic, but I take a good fish oil omega-3 supplement and I eat a lot of fish too (wild and therefore organic), but I've been finding disturbing reports on the net that omega-3s and fish are not so good for us after all because the oils are very easily oxidised in the body, and I'm wondering if you could comment sometime please. Here are some links about the 'dangers' of fish oil:


  • hb

    8/16/2009 7:37:23 PM |

    I guess there's no free link? Couldn't see it on the Lab's website.

  • moblogs

    8/17/2009 9:33:45 AM |

    Even if it wasn't better, some things definitely taste better, so the premium is apparent.

  • Nameless

    8/17/2009 6:18:17 PM |

    The problem with organic blueberries (for me) is simply finding them. Seems nobody locally sells organic blueberries.

    As for fish oil, oxidation is a potential issue, but hopefully vitamin E protects against that. There could be a concern though with very large dosing, or bad fish oils. It'd be interesting to see more krill oil vs fish oil studies, testing oxidation, lipid changes, plaque reduction, etc. Krill would, seemingly, avoid some of the oxidation problems fish oil may have.

    I would also be interested if Dr. David considered writing an article about oxidized cholesterol in the future, as it seems to get ignored a lot. But if fish oils did increase oxidized cholesterol in the body to such an extent as to increase plaque, I'd think he would have seen it by now, since most of his patients are probably taking fish oil.

  • Helena

    8/18/2009 11:54:50 PM |

    Dr Davis, I have been reading alot about blueberries and their power to lower LDL cholesterol. But we just went over the fructose and how bad that is for the cholesterol. Am I missing something special with the blueberries? I know they are high in Vitamin C and K, but is that it? I feel like I don't know what to believe regarding blueberries. Thankful for a reply. Regards, Helena

  • Dr. William Davis

    8/19/2009 1:10:31 AM |

    Hi, Helena--

    Blueberries are, on the whole, good. They have a wonderful complement of flavonoids and other nutrients.

    But, too much of a good thing . . . Then the fructose gets you. So, a modest quantity is good, just as in many other foods.

  • Dr. William Davis

    8/19/2009 1:12:11 AM |


    The fact remains: Large clinical studies that have looked at cardiovascular events and mortality, such as GISSI-Prevenzione, have demonstrated significant reductions.

    I agree that we must always question "conventional" wisdom. But sometimes conventional wisdom is correct.

  • Richard A.

    8/19/2009 4:02:36 PM |

    From what I understand, wild blueberries are higher in anthocyanins than are the standard blueberries. Wild blueberries are smaller in diameter than the standard.

    In southern California, Trader Joe's carries wild blueberries at a good price -- about $2.99 for 16 ozs. Indeed, TJ's has a good selection of berries at a good prices.

  • Tom

    8/19/2009 4:37:04 PM |

    This website that Anne posted - - raises some pretty frightening concerns about supplemental fish oils, and he includes references to studies that seem to confirm some of his points.

    Dr. Davis, have you had anopportunity to read his comments, and if yes, what is your thinking about his allegations?

    Thank you.


  • David

    8/19/2009 4:39:26 PM |

    Hi Dr. Davis,

    Do you ever see patients that have a zero calcium score? I'm just wondering if your diet/lifestyle advice applies as well for prevention as it does for your sample of patients.  


  • karl

    8/19/2009 6:47:52 PM |

    Where can one find this study? Were both blueberries the same species?

    I've wondered if the smaller wild blueberries had more skin and thus more flavinoids?

  • Kismet

    8/19/2009 11:21:18 PM |

    Tom, if anything the risks of Omega-3 fatty acids might outweight their benefits in a select few: exceptionally healthy people with no risk factors whatsoever. (And never forget that dosis sola venenum facit.)
    I guess it certainly does not apply to Dr. Davis' patients and probably not to most of us.

    There may be pros and cons of taking high or moderate doses of fish oil but that is to be expected, isn't it? It's a matter of risk:benefit ratios. If large interventional trials show a mortality benefit in certain populations, then we can be sure of it.

    I've planned to read up on the issue of O-3 and those purpoted risks for quite some time (but haven't, so take my opinion FWIW).

  • Nameless

    8/20/2009 12:48:51 AM |

    I expect this will come up in the upcoming report on Anthocyanins, but a recent study has shown some nice lipid improvements using approx the equivalent to a cup of blueberries --

    The study used an extract, so they seemingly got around the fructose issue. But I think the benefits of blueberries would outweigh the relatively low levels of fructose anyway. It's really the only affordable way to get enough anthocyanins to match the study, until some pharmaceutical company gets wind of it, I guess. *Black Currant/Blueberry pills ala Lovaza*

  • Van Rensselaer

    8/20/2009 3:36:10 AM |


    I've read the blog posts from both Hyperlipid and Panu you've provided.  I think Peter at Hyperlipid raises some very interesting questions, but I'm really not prepared to get carried away with panic.  First, I think it's very important to keep in mind that the study Peter cites had the subjects consuming 30 ml of fish oil per day.  Total omega-3 content alone was in the neighborhood of 15 ml, if I recall correctly.  This is an enormous dose!  Furthermore, Peter makes the point that this is probably only an issue with concurrent consumption of excessive carbs and/or alcohol (and excessive omega-6, one suspects...), perhaps thus explaining why Eskimo on a traditional diet do not experience hepatic steatosis, etc... at such high levels of omega-3 intake.  As for the "raypeat" article you've provided, I can only say that I've checked out two of the papers he cites, and was left a bit puzzled.  For instance, the issue of liver toxicity he mentions (I first followed this issue based on the concern Peter @ hyperlipid raised) refers to a study using a rabbit model.  Very interesting, but it's critical to ask just how much fish oil you can force-feed a herbivore before something horrible happens.  We've seen very wrong and enduring dietary advice arise from studies using rabbit models before (ie the lipid hypothesis), so I say, let's not jump to conclusions.  The second study raypeat points us to "Mechanisms for the serum lipid-lowering effect of n-3 fatty acids" really doesn't have much to say about deleterious effects, as far as I can see.  Here's a quote for you: "The finding that n-3 fatty acids are transported from the liver as ketone bodies to a larger extent than n-6 fatty acids may thus explain that a high intake of n-3 fatty acids is not accompanied with hepatic steatosis."

    I'll keep reading up in the meanwhile.  This is a pretty fascinating subject to me.

    Oh, and I like my blueberries!  Lots of tasty organic options in the SF Bay Area.  I think Michael Pollan mentioned in one of his books that wild and organically raised plants tend to have a much higher antioxidant content because they're left to their own devices, having to fend for themselves rather than rely on the crutch of insecticides to protect them...

    Kind regards,

    Van Rensselaer

  • Van Rensselaer

    8/20/2009 3:58:24 AM |

    I forgot to say that Aronia, aka "chokeberry" is supposedly loaded with anthocyanins.  I've bought the juice from Trader Joe's before.  It's not very sweet at all and is astringent like unsweetened 100% cranberry juice.  Maybe an ideal candidate?  Low in sugar, high in anthocyanins.

    Van Rensselaer

  • Anonymous

    8/20/2009 1:26:56 PM |

    To the risks of O-3s... I understand that some genetic variants are linked to these risks.  I would very much like to know the good Doc's opinion on genetic testing and variation, and how it affects they way we metabolize certain nutrieints.  Perhaps there is no "one diet fits all" solution, but rather a "one diet fits a genotype."

  • robert

    9/3/2009 8:19:26 PM |

    Hello Readers and Dr. Davis,

    Let me try to clear up what may be a little confusion regarding the USDA organic vs conventional blueberry results for phenolic profile, total anthocyanins, and the ORAC value of each. Firstly, organic blueberries are grown and harvested from the wild and although they do get some management, they are supremely adapted to their cold northern environment and fare well enough left alone and are are "organic" by default (some managers do apply fertilizers and set fires for weed control). These wild northern bluberries are Vaccinium angustifolium. On the other hand, "conventional" blueberries are generally more southerly tetraploid and hexaploid species, Vaccinium corymbosum and V. ashei and interspecific hybrids developed for the fresh market and the emphasis on uniform, dry scar fruit with pleasing color and shelf life to withstand the rigors of the food system. The wild types have far more phenols and anthocyanins located just under their skins on a per gram basis than modern cultivars of V corymbosum and relatives. However, they also do not stand up well to the logistics of shipping fresh to millions of retail outlets and tend to "bleed" anthocyanin when disturbed. For this reason, most are canned or frozen. The point is that USDA did not really segregate their data properly if it was not a straight comparison between like species and known environments. Comparing V. angustifolium from Maine or Canada with V. corybosum used for the fresh market for these constituents does not give a clear picture that "organic" techniques automatically infer higher concentrations of components desirable for human consumption than "conventional" cropping. There is much more going on than production techniques and these conclusions do not hold as a consequence of technique when applied to the exact same cultivar. I work on the genetic improvement of blueberry and other small fruits so I have a bit of experience with this. If you want the antioxidants of blueberries on a year-round basis, buy the Dole frozen wild blueberries. BTW, I don't work for Dole. Hope this helps. Thanks.

    Robert C. Richardson, Ph.D.

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