By Toni Salter
"Organic farming methods have increased antioxidant levels in some cases by over 300 percent. On average, across 7 studies that reported direct comparisons of the levels of antioxidants in conventional and organic foods, levels in organic food averaged about 1/3 higher." 
So what's the big deal about antioxidants?
Antioxidants are naturally occurring plant chemicals that help prevent or reduce tissue damage caused by free radicals. By lessening free radical damage, antioxidants reduce inflammation and can lessen joint and muscle pain. In this way antioxidants can play a role in promoting cardiovascular health, lessen the risk and severity of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and generally slow the aging process.
Antioxidants have also been shown to prevent or slow the growth of some cancerous tumors. Some studies suggest that antioxidants can also delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes as well as slowing down its progression for those who already have this increasingly common disease. It appears to be the plants' natural response to stress, possibly through insect attack, plant disease, soil chemical imbalance or weather extremes that trigger the production of antioxidants.
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Organically grown plants display higher levels of antioxidants because they are grown without the added protection of synthetic pesticides and therefore suffer more stress.
Organic culture works to feed the soil, which gives plants the necessary nutrients with which to "heal" themselves when presented with this added stress. Emphasis is placed on soil nutrition rather than simply using a pesticide to remedy problems. It is holistic health as it relates to the plant realm.
Organic culture practices that can be adopted by home gardeners:
- Use of compost
- Cover crops/green manures
- Slow release forms of nitrogen
- Harvesting fruits and vegetables at the peak of ripeness
- Leaving skin on produce when eaten
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The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry (2003), February agrees "that good soil nutrition appears to increase levels of natural compounds that have anti-cancer, immune boosting and anti-aging properties." Brightly colored fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, blueberries, red cabbage, strawberries, plums, broccoli, watercress, red grapes, kale and spinach tend to accumulate the highest levels of antioxidants.
Gardeners should try to include more of these vegetables in order to get the maximum food value from their homegrown produce. Organic produce can simply be washed and eaten without the need to peel the skin. This is particularly important when it comes to the nutritional value of the food we eat as the plant's active growing zone is just under the skin so this is also where the accumulation of most antioxidants occurs.
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It also happens to be where many systemic pesticides tend to build up. Peeling the skin on conventionally grown produce may perhaps reduce your risk of chemical exposure somewhat, however it also reduces the amount of disease fighting antioxidants you consume. Growing your own organic vegetables using soil improvement techniques and leaving the skin on your produce will go a long way to ensuring your good health and ability to fight disease.
Toni Salter, 'The Veggie Lady', is an Australian registered horticulturist living in Sydney. Follow Toni on Twitter and 'Like' her on Facebook.
 Dr Charles Benbrook for the U.S. Organic Center , January 2005
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