Organic fruit and veg 'equal to two of your five-a-day'
EATING organic fruit and vegetables could be equivalent to an extra two portions of the recommended five-a-day, a wide-ranging study claims.
They contain more of the antioxidant compounds linked to better health, and lower levels of toxic metals and pesticides, researchers found.
The international team behind the study suggests that switching to organic fruit and vegetables could provide the same nutritional benefits as an extra one or two portions of ordinary produce.
But its conclusions, to be published next week, were challenged last night by a number of respected authorities.
In the study, Carlo Leifert, professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University, and his team analysed 343 peer-reviewed studies from all over the world, a more comprehensive review than ever done before.
They concluded that there were "statistically significant, meaningful" differences between organic and conventional fruit and vegetables, with a range of antioxidants between 19 and 69pc higher, in organic produce.
The researchers say the higher levels would be "significant and meaningful in terms of human nutrition, if information linking these [compounds] to the health benefits associated with increased fruit, vegetable and whole grain consumption is confirmed".
Antioxidants have been linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. But opinion is likely to remain divided following publication of the research, funded by the European Union and the Sheepdrove Trust, an organic farming charity, next week.
Prof Richard Mithen at the Institute of Food Research (IFR), at the University of East Anglia, said the study had failed to show that consumers should switch. "There is no evidence provided that the relatively modest differences in the levels of some of these compounds would have any consequences [good or bad] on public health," he said.
"The references to 'antioxidants' and 'antioxidant activity' would suggest a poor knowledge of the current understanding within the nutrition community of how fruit and vegetables may maintain and improve health."
He said that the higher cost of organic vegetables would be likely to mean people simply ate less of them, easily offsetting any nutritional benefits, "even if they did occur, which I doubt".
Improving public health required people to eat more fruit and vegetables of whatever sort, he added.
Tom Sanders, professor of nutrition at King's College London, said the research did show differences, but added: "The question is are they within natural variation? And are they nutritionally relevant?"