Organic vs. Conventional Fermented Food: Which Has Better Nutritional Value?
Here at mbg, we're huge proponents of fermented foods. Not only are these ingredients (think kimchi, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut) excellent for supporting your gut because of their probiotic power, but they're also delicious and packed with a range of nutrients that are great for your overall health and well-being.
In the great nutrition debate (or ongoing lessons) of organic vs. conventional foods, organic farming is generally believed to provide a higher nutritional and health value, and of course, lower pesticide exposure. But what about when those foods are fermented—does it really matter if your tempeh is organic or not? A fascinating new comparative study published in Molecules1 has some insight.
So, should you shop organic or conventional?
This study compared the content of several essential micronutrients (calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin A in the carotenoid beta-carotene form) as well as lactic acid bacteria in both organic and conventional fermented foods and beverages to determine which ones offer you (and your gut) a better health bang for your buck.
Specifically, the researchers measured levels of these vitamins, minerals, and lactic acid bacteria in the following plant- and animal-sourced items: pickled beet and carrot juices, pickled cucumbers, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, and buttermilk.
As for the answer? Well, "research results do not clearly indicate which production system–conventional or organic–provides higher levels of bioactive substances in fermented food," the study states. "However, it should be emphasized that the lactic acid bacteria number and their bacteriocinogenic potential was higher in most organic products."
So, what does that mean? While the results were…uh...semi-ambiguous (mixed), a few clear trends emerged. Firstly, the analyses revealed that good bacteria (those lactic acid ones) were higher in organic sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, and pickled carrot juice compared to their conventional (i.e., not organic) counterparts. Meanwhile, conventional pickled cucumbers and pickled beet juice netted higher levels of these beneficial bacteria when compared side-by-side with organic versions.
These findings are notable because lactic acid bacteria (e.g., Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces species being the most famous) have helpful probiotic properties2 and actions in the body.
What's more, the organic fermented vegetables (pickled cucumbers and sauerkraut) were found to contain slightly more (albeit statistically significant) vitamin C, and calcium was higher in organic yogurt compared to conventional.
By way of example and to put the magnitude of these nutritional differences into perspective: Conventional yogurt was shown to contain approximately 154 milligrams of the calcium mineral per 100 grams of yogurt, while the organic yogurt boasted a bit more (166 milligrams).
Additional findings? Glad you asked: In the organic pickled beet juice, there was five times less beta-carotene (aka vitamin A) compared to the conventional juice. The researchers note that "the quality of organic food is not always better than conventional food," due to factors like production technology, chemical composition of the raw material, and storage conditions.
All in all, this emerging research1 on the nutritional and probiotic features of a select number (important point: this is not an exhaustive list of fermented foods or nutrients analyzed by any means) organic vs. conventional foods and beverages is somewhat mixed but still insightful.
Shopping organic (if that's an accessible option for you) appears to have advantages for certain items. If we home in on lactic acid bacterial potential alone, it appears organic sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, and pickled carrot juice as well as conventional pickled cucumbers and pickled beet juice are the winners.
Other sneaky ways to increase your intake of organic veggies (and lactic acid bacteria).
Eating a diet chock-full of whole, organic fruits and vegetables is never a bad idea, but finding this produce in your local grocery store or coming up with clever ways to use different foods is sometimes a challenge. To make it simple, consider adding a high-quality greens powder that's USDA-certified organic to your meals to enhance the organic plant inputs and nutritional value of any dish.
Need a little assistance? mbg's organic veggies+ has got you covered. Created with 31 powerhouse ingredients (in just 1 tablespoon, mind you) including organic leafy greens, sea vegetables, berries, herbs, prebiotic fiber, digestive enzymes, and more, this greens powder is easy to mix into shakes, pasta sauces, salads, or really any dish you could think of.
What's more, this unique greens blend even features 10 billion CFU of health-promoting lactic acid bacteria (probiotic) strains from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium genera.
Not only does the organic powder support a healthy gut microbiome, but organic veggies+ also helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels and aid in digestion for a nourished and balanced gut.* Did we mention it's also a good source of fiber?
Although the evidence pointing toward organic foods wasn't as clear cut as expected, when it's an option for you as you shop for fermented foods (and sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, and pickled carrot juice in particular), consider making the investment in your ingredients for an increase in lactic acid bacteria (i.e., for their superior probiotic potential).
And for a daily source of those good probiotic "bugs," plus loads of organic botanicals, in an easy greens blend spoonful—organic veggies+ is a helpful (and healthful!) addition to any diet.
Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career, and formerly worked at SheFinds. Her byline has also appeared in Women’s Health. In her current role, she writes and edits for the health, movement, and food sections of mindbodygreen. Readman currently lives in New York City.