British Journal of Nutrition study: organic produce really is healthier for you

by Terry B on August 3, 2014

A new study refutes claims by an earlier Stanford study that stated that organic produce was no more nutritious than conventionally grown produce. The bottom line still remains this: eat your fruits and vegetables.

Organic produce is healthier

A couple of years ago, Stanford University released a study on organic food that many people feel got it wrong. What they studied was the comparative nutritional value of organic vs. conventionally grown produce. They found no difference. How they reported their findings was to state that organic produce was no healthier for you than non-organic, completely ignoring the health implications of residual pesticides. Now another study suggests they were wrong about the nutritional differences too.

Last month, the British Journal of Nutrition published the findings of researchers in Europe and the United States. The Los Angeles Times reports that, after reviewing 343 studies on the topic, researchers concluded that “organic crops and organic-crop-based foods contained higher concentrations of antioxidants on average than conventionally grown foods.” Antioxidants have been linked to reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and other chronic diseases.

They also found that conventionally grown foods contained greater concentrations of residual pesticides and the toxic metal cadmium.

For consumers, the question is how much is enough and how much is too much. It’s not certain whether the human body can actually make use of the extra antioxidants—and whether the level of residual pesticides pose a significant risk to healthy adults.

To me, this is too narrow a view. We need to think about how our food gets to us—and who and what that affects. As I said here when writing about the flawed Stanford study, “Exposure to pesticides is a constant threat to the well-being of farm workers. Animals raised organically for food generally lead healthier, happier lives too. And finally, there’s the planet itself. Chemical run-off, waste production and depletion of the soil from the monoculture approach of industrial farming all place a huge burden on the environment.”

And then there’s the even bigger picture of nutrition and health—in this country and around the world. The excellent Times article quotes Charles Benbrook, coauthor of the most recent study and a research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, on that topic: “The first and foremost message is people need to eat more fruits and vegetables. Buying organic is the surest way of limiting exposure if you have health issues, but by all means, people need to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables whether it’s organic or conventional.”


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

[email protected] Riffs August 3, 2014 at 11:12 am

Good news! Although I wish they had conducted an actual experiment rather than do a study of studies. Those have a lot of validity IMO, but it’d be good to test the actual hypothesis rather than infer it from the work of others. Anyway, glad to hear about this — thanks.

Anita August 4, 2014 at 11:00 am

I agree with your broader view and thought it was a very odd place to draw the line in the Stanford study.

randi August 4, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Seems perfectly logical.

Terry B August 6, 2014 at 9:22 am

John, I understand your point, but aggregating data from numerous studies can validate hypotheses by providing much broader samples over longer periods of time. This is a burgeoning field, in fact. Research is producing tons of data on all kinds of topics; carefully analyzing that data can tell us what we’ve learned by collecting all this information.

Anita, the Stanford study and how it was reported bothered a lot of people. Including me.

Randi, I was surprised about the nutrition benefit, but even without it, reducing your exposure to pesticides is a good thing.

Dani H August 11, 2014 at 12:02 am

I love how you include the really important broader issues, Terry. And one other thing ~ organic often TASTES better. I will only buy organic tomatoes on the vine because of taste. (At least until I get around to growing my own in a container garden on my balcony.) Great post!

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