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Organic Tomatoes Are Smaller But Contain More Disease-Fighting Compounds, Study Reveals

Update Date: Feb 21, 2013 01:20 PM EST

A new study reveals that organic tomatoes really are healthier than conventionally grown tomatoes.

While organic tomatoes are on average 40 percent smaller, they contain higher amounts of vitamin C and other healthy compounds that can potentially fight chronic diseases, according to the study recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The latest findings reveal that organic tomatoes had significantly higher levels of vitamin C, sugar and lycopene, the naturally-occurring chemical compound that gives tomatoes their red color.

Researchers explain that the difference between organically grown and conventionally grown tomatoes be credited toward the organic plants' tough upbringing.  Researchers explain that organic farming tends to "stress out" the tomato plants. For example, plants that are left to their own devices without the help of pesticides or fertilizers produce more stress compounds like vitamin C, lycopene and other healthy chemicals to fight off unwanted pests and defend for themselves. Researchers explain that the process is similar to the way humans make antibodies to fight off an infection or disease.

The latest study is not the first to favor organic methods in agriculture. According to NPR, past research from the University of California, Davis found that organically grown tomatoes had nearly double the concentration of two flavonoids, quercetin and kaempferol, which have powerful antioxidant qualities.

Researchers from the recent study say that the latest findings suggest that making life harder for agricultural produce can lead to improvements in quality. However, many experts still disagree that more expensive organic farm produce really are healthier.

A review of past studies published in 2012 found that while organic produce may taste better, there is no significant evidence to suggest that they have higher nutritional value.

In the latest study, researchers compared tomatoes grown on conventional and organic farms in Brazil.  Researchers said that the farms were located within 1.5 kilometers or 0.93 miles of each other and shared similar natural environments. The organically grown tomatoes used in the study were fertilized with animal manure and vegetable compost, but were not sprayed with pesticides. The conventionally grown tomatoes, however, were treated with inorganic fertilizer and the pesticide FASTAC 100.

Researchers took 30 plant samples from each farm and analyzed their nutritional content. They found organic tomatoes were 40 percent smaller than conventional tomatoes. However, organic tomatoes had 57 percent higher vitamin C concentration and contained more than two times the quantity of phenolic compounds compared to their conventionally-grown counterparts. Plant phenols, such as flavonoids, help fight oxidative stress, a kind of chemical damage associated with chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer and dementia.

Previous studies reveal that tomato flavonoid, lycopene, significantly reduced the risk of prostate cancer and significantly slowed tumor growth.

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