A new study by Stanford University’s Center for Health Policy reckons ‘Organic Foods Are No More Nutritious then Conventional Foods’, which is a pretty bland statement, comparing the vitamin C levels of organic vs conventional oranges kind of misses the point!
The study qualified this logic defying statement by saying that Organic Food might reduce our exposure to pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria… I’M SORRY? isn’t that at least half the reason we eat organically grown food!?
..so backing this truck up a little, what the study DID find was that organic fruits and vegetables are 30 per cent less likely to be contaminated with pesticides than their conventional counterparts, that children on organic diets had lower levels of pesticides in their urine, compared to those on conventional diets.
Before you read on, we must qualify by saying that Stanford’s study isn’t a standalone piece of research, it’s a comprehensive meta-analysis of various studies, Stanford’s research is published in this week’s Annals of Internal Medicine ::::
We’ve spruked the importance of minimising the ingestion of pesticides and environmentally born antibiotics – The Rise and Rise of Allergies! Microbial Deprivation and Hygiene Hypothesis – now a new study from Stanford University has cemented what a growing number of people have known for years; Organic Food Has Considerably LESS Contaminents Than Conventionally Farmed Foods!
“The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods,” Dr Dena Bravata, of Stanford University’s Center for Health Policy, and colleagues wrote in the studies . The researchers analysed 17 randomised clinical trials in humans and 223 studies of nutrient and bacterial, fungal or pesticide contaminant levels in foods.
Researchers did find organic chicken and pork appeared to reduce exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The duration of human studies only ranged from two days to two years and the researchers did not find any long-term studies of health outcomes of people consuming organic versus conventionally produced food.
Bravata and her colleagues found only one nutrient – phosphorus – to be significantly higher in organic versus conventionally grown produce. They say this has little clinical significance since few people have phosphorous deficiency. However, the researchers reported that a limited number of studies suggested organic milk may contain significantly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than conventional milk, but they found no difference in protein or fat content levels.
“Some believe that organic food is always healthier and more nutritious,” says co-author Dr Crystal Smith-Spangler, also of Stanford’s Center for Health Policy. “We were a little surprised that we didn’t find that.”
The researchers say their study was limited by the fact that the studies they reviewed differed greatly in testing methods, physical factors affecting the food, such as weather and soil type, and great variation among organic farming methods.
“What I learned is there’s a lot of variation between farming practices,” says Smith-Spangler. “It appears there are a lot of different factors that are important in predicting nutritional quality and harms.”
According to one UK nutrition expert, however, Bravata and colleagues’ conclusions on the nutrients in organic food are flawed due to the methods they used to combine a diverse range of studies.
Dr Kirsten Brandt of the Human Nutrition Research Centre of Newcastle University says the methods used by the researchers “exaggerated the variation between studies” and “drowned out” the real differences between organic and conventional foods.
Brandt’s own analysis published in Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences last year found organic fruit and vegetables contain up to 12 per cent more vitamins and other plant chemicals, many of which, such as antioxidants, are known to be beneficial to humans.
“We have analysed pretty much the same papers,” says Brandt.
“In my view, for the plant nutrient data [Bravata and colleagues] basically used totally inappropriate methods for combining the data from the different studies, and if they had used correct methods, they would have found highly significant differences for most of the nutrients.”
Brandt says another 2010 Danish study, which found organic vegetables were no more nutritious than conventional vegetables, was too small to draw valid conclusions.
Pesticide and bacterial contamination
Bravata and colleagues found organic fruits and vegetables are 30 per cent less likely to be contaminated with pesticides than their conventional counterparts, although they were not necessarily 100 per cent free of pesticides.
They also found children on organic diets had lower levels of pesticides in their urine, compared to those on conventional diets. But they stress all pesticide levels were below the allowable safety thresholds.
Bravata and colleagues found no difference in allergic outcomes between people eating organic versus conventional foods.
Nor did they find any difference in Campylobacter infection in humans eating organic versus conventional food, or Escherichia coli contamination of organic versus conventional foods.
But they did find organic chicken and pork appeared to reduce exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The findings on pesticide and bacterial contamination are important from a consumer’s point of view, says Liza Oates, course coordinator of Food as Medicine, Wellness & Complementary and Alternative Medicine for the Master of Wellness Program at RMIT University.
“Our research shows organic consumers are more interested in what’s not in their food – such as pesticides and antibiotics – than what is,” says Oates, who is currently conducting a PhD in the health effects of organic diets.
“Most also say that the environmental and social benefits of organic food play a key role in their decision to go organic.”