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Organic produce is no healthier or nutritious, finds review

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By Nathan Gray+

04-Sep-2012
Last updated the 04-Sep-2012 at 15:25 GMT

Organic produce offers no benefits over conventional farming methods when it comes to nutrition and health, according to the findings of a new wide ranging review of the evidence.

The new review – published in Annals of Internal Medicine – analysed data from more than 200 published nutrient analysis studies and human trials, finding that there is generally no difference in nutritional value or risk for bacterial contamination between organic and conventional foods.

The research team, led by Crystal Smith-Spangler of Stanford University, said their findings suggest consumption of organic fruits and vegetables has no benefit over conventional foods in terms of improving health.

"Some believe that organic food is always healthier and more nutritious," said Smith-Spangler. "We were a little surprised that we didn't find that."

Dr Dena Bravata, senior author of the review added: "There isn't much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you're an adult and making a decision based solely on your health."

The team did find that organic food consumption reduced exposure to any detectable pesticide residues by around 30%, but noted that pesticide levels were generally within the allowable limits for safety anyway.

The researchers said their aim is to educate people, not to discourage them from making organic purchases: "If you look beyond health effects, there are plenty of other reasons to buy organic instead of conventional," said Bravata.

“Consumers may choose to purchase organic foods for other reasons besides nutrition and food safety, such as concern for animal welfare, the environment, or preferences in taste," added Smith-Spangler.

Organic evidence?

Organic foods are often twice as expensive as their conventionally grown counterparts, said the authors.

Though there is a common perception — perhaps based on price alone — that organic foods are better for you than non-organic ones, the authors noted that there is an open question as to whether they have added health benefits.

Bravata said that the evidence to back the supposed and often presumed benefits of organic consists of a "confusing body of studies, including some that were not very rigorous, appearing in trade publications."

"This was a ripe area in which to do a systematic review," said Smith-Spangler.

Review details

Smith-Spangler and her colleagues conducted the systematic review (found in full here ) of 17 human studies and 223 studies of nutrient and contaminant levels in unprocessed foods including fruits, vegetables, grains, milk, eggs, chicken, pork, and meat.

The team compared the health, nutritional, and safety characteristics of organic and conventional foods, finding that the published literature “lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.”

After analyzing the data, they found found little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods.

No consistent differences were seen in the vitamin content of organic products, and only one nutrient — phosphorus — was significantly higher in organic versus conventionally grown produce. Smith-Spangler and her colleagues said that because few people have phosphorous deficiency, this has little clinical significance.

There was also no difference in protein or fat content between organic and conventional milk, though the team did find weak evidence of the nutritional superiority of organic foods in that organic produce contained significantly higher levels of total phenolic compounds, which have antioxidant properties, and that organic milk and chicken contained higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

While researchers found that organic produce is 30% less likely to be contaminated with pesticides than conventional fruits and vegetables, the reviewers noted that organic foods are not necessarily 100% free of pesticides. In addition, the pesticide levels of all foods fell within the allowable safety limits, they said.

Source: Annals of Internal Medicine
Volume 157, Number 5, Pages 348-366, doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-157-5-201209040-00007
“Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review”
Authors: Crystal Smith-Spangler, Margaret L. Brandeau, Grace E. Hunter, J. Clay Bavinger, Maren Pearson, et al

4 comments (Comments are now closed)

I smell MONEY and PANTS ON FIRE, timing on Prop 37

Organic does mean GMO free but it does not mean that there is not contamination in crops such as corn. I eat for life and absolutely without a doubt the organic crops make a difference over genetically engineered. Having findings like this with the type of timing on Prop 37 vote is very suspicious. Funny how Dr. Tyrone Hayes, Silent Spring to Silent Nights youtube.com findings were swayed afterward by newly hired research. People Lie for Money Nathan, so sad to see the USA Today is on this wagon. Sleep well, and feed your children this food - ok! Bye Bye USA Today, Hello New York Times blogger Michael Pollan.

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Posted by Mary Beth Karchella-MacCumbee
05 November 2012 | 19h37

Don't assume... Mike

I've been severely allergic to corn all of my life and have to avoid it. I don't eat foods that contain corn, GMO, organic or not. I don't eat soy, canola oil, cottonseed oil, beet sugar or anything that contains them. So, I do avoid GMOs. I am well aware that there are organic products that contain GM ingredients, especially corn. Often citric acid made from corn, xanthan gum and other corn-crap. I have to contact companies to ask about corn-derived ingredients so I can avoid eating something that will make me sick. As far as GMOs go, they give me stomach pains among other things, and I have no intention of eating them, if I can possibly avoid them. My husband gets hives if he eats anything with canola oil, so he has to avoid it, too. It really isn't anybody's business if I want to avoid GMOs, and you are welcome to eat all of them you want. That is your choice, and my choice is to not eat them. Case closed.

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Posted by DJ
07 September 2012 | 01h32

Response to DJ

DJ - FYI, organic does not mean GMO free. Organic has to do with the practices used to grow crops (no fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc). So, sorry to inform you that you have no doubt been consuming GMO products and are none the worse for it.

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Posted by Mike
05 September 2012 | 18h29

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