FOODS     TOOLS     ABOUT        

Organic Broccoli vs Regular Broccoli: Is There a Difference?


Organic Broccoli

Surveys show that consumers regard organic foods healthier and safer than non-organic foods, and are willing to pay a premium for organically labeled produce (1). In this article, we look at how regular broccoli measures up against organic broccoli in terms of pesticide levels and nutritional value, so you can make a more informed decision next time you are standing in the supermarket wondering whether you should buy organic broccoli or its conventionally-grown counterpart.



Regular Broccoli Does Not Contain High Levels of Pesticides

Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a list that includes non-organic vegetables and fruits that contain exceptionally low levels of pesticide residues. This list is supposed to help shoppers who are worried about pesticide loads in foods to know when it's OK to buy non-organic produce.

In 2018, broccoli was included in this list of the cleanest non-organic produce, suggesting that buying organic broccoli instead of regular broccoli won't make a massive difference in how much pesticides you get from your broccoli. In fact, 70 percent of the broccoli samples that were analyzed contained no detectable levels of pesticide residues, and only one in ten broccoli samples contained more than one pesticide (2).



Organic vs Non-Organic Broccoli from a Nutritional Standpoint


When trying to assess whether organic broccoli is better than regular broccoli, it also makes sense to compare their nutritional profiles. As broccoli (especially raw broccoli) is an exceptionally good source of vitamin C and the phytochemical glucoraphanin, it is not surprising that research has been carried out to compare the vitamin C and glucoraphanin content of organic vs regular broccoli. Here's what studies have revealed:


Vitamin C

A study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition compared the vitamin C content of organically grown broccoli versus regular broccoli, and found no significant difference between the two types (3).

Interestingly, many other studies that have analyzed the vitamin C content of organic foods and their non-organic counterparts have found significant differences between the two types. For example, one review found that vitamin C was 43 percent more abundant in organic cabbage than non-organic cabbage, while another study concluded that organic kiwis contained significantly more vitamin C than regular kiwis grown on the same farm in California.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that is involved in keeping your immune system, bones, teeth and skin healthy. In addition, research suggests that vitamin C may have additional benefits for asthma sufferers, and there is also some evidence it may promote fat loss in some situations. However, research exploring the potential weight loss benefits of vitamin C is still in its infancy, and further studies are warranted.


Glucoraphanin

A study published in the journal European Food Research and Technology compared the glucoraphanin content of freeze-dried organic broccoli and non-organic broccoli, and found no significant differences between the organic and non-organic samples (4). While glucoraphanin is considered a biologically inactive molecule, it can be converted into sulforaphane, a phytochemical that has been extensively researched for its potential health benefits, particularly its anti-cancer effects.

Indeed, a growing body of evidence suggests that sulforaphane from Brassica vegetables like broccoli and kale may help prevent cancer, for example, by inducing detoxifying phase II enzymes, promoting self-destruction of cancerous cells, and inhibiting NF-κB, a protein complex that stimulates cell proliferation and prevents apoptosis (5, 6).



Summary

Regular broccoli grown using conventional agricultural methods does not appear to contain high levels of pesticides. There is also no significant difference between organic and non-organic broccoli in terms of how much vitamin C and sulforaphane they provide. Therefore, buying non-organic broccoli, which is typically much cheaper than organic broccoli, is certainly not too bad an option.


References

  1. Carl Winter and Sarah Davis (2006). Organic Foods. Journal of Food Science, 71(9).
  2. Clean Fifteen - EWG's 2018 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Environmental Working Group
  3. Wunderlich et al (2008). Nutritional quality of organic, conventional, and seasonally grown broccoli using vitamin C as a marker. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 59(1), 34-45.
  4. M. Meyer and S. Adam (2008). Comparison of glucosinolate levels in commercial broccoli and red cabbage from conventional and ecological farming. European Food Research and Technology, 226(6), 1429-1437.
  5. S. Tortorealla et al (2015). Dietary Sulforaphane in Cancer Chemoprevention: The Role of Epigenetic Regulation and HDAC Inhibition. Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, 22(16).
  6. Y. Xia et al (2015). NF-κB, an active player in human cancers. Cancer Immunology Research, 2(9): 823-830.