Organic vs. Non-Organic Carrots – Which Are Better?
Studies show that organic carrots are low in nitrates, compared with their conventionally-grown counterparts, but that's hardly the only reason why organic carrots are better than non-organic carrots. Here's a quick comparison of the nutrient content of organic versus non-organic carrots.
Should You Be Concerned About the Nitrates in Carrots?
Several studies have found lower nitrate levels in organic carrots than in conventionally-grown carrot crops. A Polish study presented at the International IFOAM Scientific Conference in 2000, for example, found that organic carrots contain 3 to 4 times less nitrates than their non-organic counterparts. This study analyzed carrots from ten organic farms and ten conventional, intensive farms in Poland. Although not considered harmful as such for healthy adults, nitrates are pre-cursors to nitrites which in turn can be converted into carcinogenic nitrosamines under certain conditions, including acidic environments like the stomach. However, vitamin C and other antioxidants can effectively prevent nitrosamine formation, which is why vegetables, which are naturally rich in antioxidants, have not been shown to exert carcinogenic effects, even if they contain relatively high amounts of nitrates. In fact, numerous studies show that vegetables, even if they contain nitrates, can provide protection against cancer.
However, even if nitrates in carrots and other vegetables are not something healthy adults should be worried about, there are some concerns about the safety of nitrates in baby food. In 2005, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report stating that home-made infant foods from vegetables (e.g. spinach, beets, carrots, green beans, and squash) should be avoided until the baby is at least three months old. Turns out, excessive amounts of nitrates can negatively affect the blood counts of young babies. Known as methemoglobinemia in medical terms, this condition can cause the mouth, hands, and feet of your baby turn blue. Babies suffering from methemoglobinemia may also be more tired than usual or have trouble breathing. In extreme cases, methemoglobinemia can cause loss of consciousness or even death.
Even though the American Academy of Pediatrics only advises you to avoid giving your baby home-made vegetable-based infant food during the first three months, it is understandable that you might still want to keep the nitrate levels in baby food as low as possible, even when your baby is older. Luckily, there are a couple of tricks you can use to minimize those nitrate levels. If you're planning to make baby food using carrots, you can for example:
- Choose organic carrots as they have been shown to contain less nitrates than non-organic carrots
- Only use carrots that are extra-fresh (long storage times increase nitrate build-up)
Other Reasons Why Organic Carrots Are Better Than Non-Organic Carrots
In the late 1990s, a team of French researchers carried out a number of studies on the effects of organic fertilizers versus mineral fertilizers on the nutrient content of vegetables. They found that organically-grown carrots had significantly higher levels of beta-carotene and vitamin B1 than non-organic carrots.
Also other researchers have found organic carrots to contain more vitamins and minerals than their conventionally-grown cousins. Reviewing several published studies comparing the nutritional value of organically grown and conventionally grown crops, Virginia Worthington found that, on average, organically-grown carrots contain 12% more iron, 69% more magnesium, 13% more phosphorus than their non-organic counterparts. Dr. Worthington is a well-known American nutritionist and a long-time advocate for organic foods. The findings of her review were published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2001.
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