“Organic food no healthier than conventional food” — have you seen the headlines? A study published at the beginning of September in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded there is not enough evidence that consuming organic foods gives you significant health benefits. Read on to find out why we still think organic food is better.
What does the study claim?
Researchers from Stanford University and the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, headed by Dr Crystal Smith-Spangler, reviewed over 200 previous studies pertaining to organic foods. The objective, they said, was to find out if there was any real evidence to suggest that organic foods are healthier than conventional foods. In Smith-Spangler's own words: "People choose to buy organic foods for many different reasons. One of them is perceived health benefits. Our patients, our families ask about, ‘Well, are there health reasons to choose organic food in terms of nutritional content or human health outcomes?'"
The 11-people strong study team looked at studies comparing the nutritional values of organic food to those of conventional produce, and examined the levels of contaminants such as pesticides as well. Besides fruits, vegetables, grains, meat and dairy, the study team also took a closer look at the health of people eating organic diets, vs those consuming conventional foods.
By the end of the study, the researchers concluded that the “published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposures to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria”.
What's wrong with the claims?
So there you have it. “Organic food is no healthier than conventional food”, so if you've been wasting your money on an organic diet it is probably time to stop and return to conventional foods, which are just as nutritious and have exactly the same vitamin content. The only slight difference is that organic foods tend to have more phosphorus, and that isn't at all important because Americans don't tend to have phosphorus deficiencies anyway.
Oh, organic milk and chicken also contain more omega-3 fatty acids — but that's something only two of the studies the researchers analysed confirmed, so you still have no reason to buy organic. Organic food is grown without using pesticides, but that fact still doesn't mean there is no pestitice residue present in organic produce. Smith-Spangler's study did confirm that organic meats are less likely to contain bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
Let's skip that for a while, and go back to the pesticides. Smith-Spangler told Reuters Health that neither organic nore conventional produce exceeds the limit for pestitice residue very often, and that it is unclear whether consuming lesser quantities of pestitice residue would benefit a person's health.
Reading big media outlets' reports about this study and its conclusions has been really quite fascinating. You'd think that “no significantly higher nutritional value” would not automatically make organic food “no healthier”, and you'd think that organic food not being completely free from pesticide residue would not lead to the conclusion that it is just as good to eat foods with higher levels of pestitice residue.
Are you convinced by the new “evidence” that conventional food is just as good as organic? Here at SteadyHealth, we realize that scientific research will always be in progress and that it would be wonderful to have more reliable evidence to help us make decisions about which foods to consume to be as healthy as possible. In the meantime, it is probably fair to point out that this very study found that:
Organic food has higher phosphorus levels (the benefit of this is very minor for most people, but it is still a fact)
Organic milk and chicken probably contain more omega-3 fatty acids
Organic produce is 30 percent less likely to contain pestitice residues
Organic meat is less likely to contain bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics
Organic food is, by definition, not genetically modified
In other words, eating organic is still a perfectly legitimate choice.