Go green or go home?
Studies compare organic, conventionally-grown foods, find no nutritional variation
To many Americans, the word “organic” connotes “healthy.” But recent research from Stanford University School of Medicine tells us that may not be the most accurate analogy.
The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, titled, “Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review,” accumulated about 240 studies about the nutrient-related differences between organically and conventionally-grown foods. The annals’ conclusion was somewhat unexpected: “The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.”
The researchers studied a slew of nutritional possibilities, but the majority of the studies collected demonstrated an insignificant difference between organic and non-organic food. Two studies showed a significantly lower level of urinary pesticide levels in children who consumed primarily organic foods, but did not see a biomarker or nutrient-level change in adults. Unfortunately for those who chose to buy organic after the recent E.coli outbreaks this year, the risk for E.coli contamination was not seen to change between organic and conventional produce.
Although the study found very little evidence that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally-grown food, the researchers did cite “higher levels of total beneficial phenols in organic produce, omega-3 fatty acids in organic milk and chicken, and vaccenic acid in organic chicken,” according to an Organic Trade Association press release.
This study may come as a surprise to some people who believe the benefits of organic produce outweigh the higher cost. But the consolation is that research such as this — and many other recent controversial studies — only consider the short-term effects of organic consumption. The long-term benefits of organically-grown food are still unknown.
Christine Bushway, the Organic Trade Association’s Executive Director and CEO, said in the press release that the people who are concerned about pesticides should not be deterred from buying organic. “Organic foods have the least chemicals applied in their production and the least residues in the final products,” Bushway said. “And, because organic livestock practices forbid the use of antibiotics, including the routine use of low level antibiotics for growth, organic meat contains less antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”
This is not the first study regarding the benefits of organically-grown food, nor will it be the last. The number of published studies of organic versus non-organic food have doubled in the last 20 years and will continue to increase as environmental and health awareness increases. As the long-term studies reach their conclusions, it may be that they are able to shed some more light on the question, but as it stands, the general consensus is that organically-grown foods are only slightly more nutritious than their conventionally-grown counterparts.