Is organic food really better for you?

It may be a myth that organic foods are healthier than their pesticide ridden counterparts.

04 Sep 2012

Scientists have said there is little evidence that organically grown food is healthier than food that has traditionally been grown with fertilizers and pesticides.  Organic food is no better for you than traditionally grown food  - they go as far as to say that it may only taste better.

According to site Stanford University doctors’ research (which included a review of 237 research studies into organic food) has concluded that there is little evidence that going organic is much healthier, citing only a few differences involving pesticides and antibiotics.

The article goes on to say: 

•    The products were 30 per cent less likely to pesticide residue than conventionally grown fruit and vegetables but were not necessarily 100 per cent free of the chemicals.
•    They found no consistent differences in the vitamin content of organic products.
•    There were higher levels of phosphorus in organically grown food but the researchers said this is of little importance as so few people are deficient in this.
•    The only other significant finding was that some studies suggested that organic milk contained higher levels of omega-3 fatty acid, which is thought to be important for brain development in infants and for cardiovascular health.

Overall message is people need to eat more fruit and vegetables

Dr Crystal Smith-Spangler, a teacher at Stanford's Centre for Health Policy, stressed that the overall message was that people needed to eat more fruit and vegetables, no matter how they were grown, because most Western diets are deficient.

The research was published in the journal, Annals of Internal Medicine.

Still plenty of other reasons to buy organic instead of conventional

Dr Dena Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford's Center for Health Policy, said: "There isn't much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you're an adult and making a decision based solely on your health.

If you look beyond health effects, there are plenty of other reasons to buy organic instead of conventional."

She said taste, concerns about the effects of conventional farming practices on the environment and animal welfare as some of the reasons people choose organic products.

The group found two studies comparing children consuming organic and conventional diets did find lower levels of pesticide residues in the urine of children on organic diets, though the levels of urinary pesticides in both groups of children were below the allowable safety thresholds.

Also, organic chicken and pork appeared to reduce exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but the researchers said the health implications of this were not clear.

Research was difficult

The group said the research was difficult because of the various ways organic food was tested, other factors that affect nutrient levels such as soil and weather and the effect that organic farming methods may have such as using manure as fertiliser which may carry bacteria.

Prof Alan Dangour, senior lecturer at the Nutrition and Public Health Intervention Research Unit, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The Smith-Spangler paper is a careful and detailed review of reports. It again demonstrates that there are no important differences in nutrient content between organic and conventionally produced foods.

"The Smith-Spangler paper also reviews health benefits of organic foods and like our 2010 review finds no evidence that organic foods are healthier than conventionally produced foods.

However, throughout the paper the authors make it clear that the evidence base is weak and highly variable.

“Consumers select organic foods for a variety of reasons, however this latest review identifies that at present there are no convincing differences between organic and conventional foods in nutrient content or health-benefits."

"As the study says, there are almost no long-term studies of the impact on people’s health of eating organic food, but the study does mention one Dutch Government funded long-term research project, which found that children who consumed dairy products of which more than 90 per cent were organically produced had a 36 per cent lower risk for eczema at age 2 years."

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