Why Eat Organic Food
New research shows significant nutritional differences between organic and non-organic food
11 July 2014
New research from Newcastle University, to be published on Tuesday 15 July, in the British Journal of Nutrition, has shown that organic crops and crop-based foods – including fruit, vegetables and cereals – are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants than their non-organic counterparts.
The study – a meta-analysis, which looked at 343 studies – found that, as well as being higher in antioxidants, organic crops also contain significantly lower levels of toxic heavy metals.
Helen Browning, Soil Association chief executive commented:
“The crucially important thing about this research is that it shatters the myth that how we farm does not affect the quality of the food we eat. The research found significant differences, due to the farming system, between organic and non-organic food.
“We know that people choose organic food because they believe it is better for them, as well as for wildlife, animal welfare and the environment, and this research backs up what people think about organic food.
“In other countries there has long been much higher levels of support and acceptance of the benefits of organic food and farming: we hope these findings will bring the UK in line with the rest of Europe, when it comes to both attitudes to organic food and support for organic farming.”
This is the most comprehensive analysis of the nutritional content in organic vs. non-organic food ever undertaken.
The full paper – “Higher antioxidant concentrations and less cadmium and pesticide residues in organically-grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses.” Baranski, M. et al. – was published in the British Journal of Nutrition on Tuesday 15th July 2014.
Clear differences between organic and non-organic food, study finds
Research is first to find wide-ranging differences between organic and conventional fruits, vegetables and cereals
Organic food has more of the antioxidant compounds linked to better health than regular food, and lower levels of toxic metals and pesticides, according to the most comprehensive scientific analysis to date.
The international team behind the work suggests that switching to organic fruit and vegetables could give the same benefits as adding one or two portions of the recommended “five a day”.
The team, led by Prof Carlo Leifert at Newcastle University, concludes that there are “statistically significant, meaningful” differences, with a range of antioxidants being “substantially higher” – between 19% and 69% – in organic food. It is the first study to demonstrate clear and wide-ranging differences between organic and conventional fruits, vegetables and cereals.
The researchers say the increased levels of antioxidants are equivalent to “one to two of the five portions of fruits and vegetables recommended to be consumed daily and would therefore be significant and meaningful in terms of human nutrition, if information linking these [compounds] to the health benefits associated with increased fruit, vegetable and whole grain consumption is confirmed”.
The findings will bring to the boil a long-simmering row over whether those differences mean organic food is better for people, with one expert calling the work sexed up.
Tom Sanders, a professor of nutrition at King’s College London, said the research did show some differences. “But the question is are they within natural variation? And are they nutritionally relevant? I am not convinced.”
The research was peer-reviewed and is published in a respected scientific journal, the British Journal of Nutrition. It was released and has appeared on several academic websites. The results are based on an analysis of 343 peer-reviewed studies from around the world – more than ever before – which examine differences between organic and conventional fruit, vegetables and cereals.
“The crucially important thing about this research is that it shatters the myth that how we farm does not affect the quality of the food we eat,” said Helen Browning, chief executive of Soil Association, which campaigns for organic farming.
UK sales of organic food, which is often considerably more expensive than non-organic, are recovering after a slump during the economic crisis. Plants produce many of their antioxidant compounds to fight back against pest attacks, so the higher levels in organic crops may result from their lack of protection by chemical sprays. But the scientists say other reasons may be important, such as organic varieties being bred for toughness and not being overfed with artificial fertilisers.
Leifert and his colleagues conclude that many antioxidants “have previously been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers”. But they also note that no long-term studies showing health benefits from a broad organic diet have yet been conducted.
The researchers found much higher levels of cadmium, a toxic metal, in conventional crops. Pesticide residues were found on conventional crops four times more often than on organic food. The research was funded by the EU and an organic farming charity.
Also, the higher levels of cadmium and pesticides in conventional produce were still well below regulatory limits. But the researchers say cadmium accumulates over time in the body and that some people may wish to avoid this, and that pesticide limits are set individually, not for the cocktail of chemicals used on crops.
Sanders said “People are buying into a lifestyle system. They get an assurance it is not being grown with chemicals and is not grown by big business.” He added that organic farming did help to address the significant problem in the UK of soil degradation and excess fertiliser polluting rivers.
Soil Association polling (pdf) shows healthy eating (55%) and avoiding chemical residues (53%) are key reasons cited by shoppers for buying organic produce. But many also say care for the environment (44%) and animal welfare (31%) are important, as is taste (35%).
Browning said: “This research backs up what people think about organic food. In other countries there has long been much higher levels of support and acceptance of the benefits of organic food and farming. We hope these findings will bring the UK in line with the rest of Europe.”
Organic Produce Is Healthier Than Conventional Produce. Or Is It?
The latest back-and-forth debate over a question that science has yet to settle, despite hundreds of studies.
Eating organic produce might not definitively make you a healthier person, but it certainly doesn’t hurt: A new analysis of 343 studies has found that organic fruits, vegetables, and grains contain higher levels of antioxidants and lower levels of pesticides compared to their non-organic counterparts.
The study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that organic crops overall contained 19% more antioxidants, with levels of certain types of health-boosting antioxidants measuring much higher (69% for flavanones, 51% for anthocyanins). The antioxidants found in organic produce are linked to reduced risk of cancer and chronic diseases. By switching to organic produce, the researchers behind the study estimate that eaters consume the antioxidant equivalent of an extra two servings of fruits or vegetables daily.
Conventional crops contain four times as many pesticides as organic crops.
This finding does make sense–plants are thought to naturally produce more antioxidants in the absence of pesticides. The study found that conventional crops contain four times as many pesticides as organic crops, as well as higher levels of cadmium, a toxic heavy metal.
More evidence that organic food IS more nutritious AND safer than conventional. Makes sense. If a farming method protects soil, water, biodiversity and pollinators, it’s better for us too!
Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D. Freelance writer, speaker, columnist and “Food Sleuth Radio”