Consumers frequently spot vegetables at the supermarket labeled as hydroponically grown, but confusion still exists over how these healthy looking vegetables stack up against conventionally grown produce. Understanding how hydroponics works and how it affects the nutritional value of the foods produced can help you decide whether to include these vegetables into your diet.
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Hydroponic vegetables are grown suspended in a liquid solution containing the minerals the plant needs to thrive. In most cases, a hydroponics farm is enclosed within a greenhouse, but hydroponics systems can also be set up outdoors. The water used in hydroponic farming can be recycled through the system. Because there is no exposure to the outdoors, hydroponic vegetables may not need the same levels of pesticides to protect the plants against insects or pathogens. Some hydroponics growers do not use pesticides, and they employ organic farming methods, which allows them to meet the standards required to be labeled as organic produce.
In general, the nutritional value of hydroponically grown vegetables is about the same as that of conventionally grown produce. The ability to precisely control the levels of minerals in the water when using hydroponics makes growers able to maintain a consistent level of minerals within the plant, unlike farmers of soil-grown vegetables who may have to fertilize heavily to make up for poor soil quality. On the other hand, a 2003 article in the "Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry" found that the carotenoid content of hydroponically grown vegetables was lower than that of conventionally grown vegetables. Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene and lutein, are plant compounds that can benefit human health, but are not classified as vitamins or minerals.
One potential issue with regard to hydroponically grown vegetables is food safety. The high humidity of hydroponic greenhouses can make these vegetables susceptible to salmonella contamination. Salmonella can cause food poisoning if ingested, but washing vegetables thoroughly before eating them can often remove any of the bacteria that might be on the surface. Cooking vegetables thoroughly destroys salmonella.
Hydroponic farming appeals to some people because of environmental concerns, since it uses less water and requires fewer pesticides or fertilizers than traditional farming techniques. Consuming a diet high in vegetables can improve your health, no matter whether the vegetables were conventionally or hydroponically grown. A diet high in vegetables reduces the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer.