Sunday, September 30, 2012

Is organic food better for you?


Is organic food better for you?

Organic food sure costs more but is it worth the extra cost?

Is organic food more nutritious than conventional food?

Is organic food safer?

Two recent studies addressed these questions. One study published in 2010 asked whether there were nutritional related health outcomes from eating organic foods. They examined over 50 years of studies. They found no evidence of benefit from organic foods as compared to conventional.

A study published this year examined the question of safety and nutritional content of organic foods versus conventional foods. This rigorous analysis looked at 223 studies of nutrient and contaminant levels in organic and conventional foods.

Although a previous study  of produce had suggested better content of micronutrients in organic produce as compared to conventional, this more extensive analysis showed no benefit in terms of nutrients in any organic foods.

Organic certification varies by country. The process is complicated and burdensome. 
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a long, complex set of requirements.

Synthetic pesticides cannot be used. So it is no surprise that this recent study concluded that there is less pesticide residue on organic produce as compared to conventional produce. 
The differences were quite small however.

The USDA has a National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for the National Organic Program. Only certain fertilizers can be used. There are many other restrictions.

Perhaps because of the restriction on fertilizer use,  organic farms have lower crop yields than conventional.
The need for more land would mean more deforestation to grow crops and less biodiversity. 
So you might feel better about the environment if you buy organic, but organic foods are in some ways actually less eco-friendly.

Poor people with small farms in developing countries are likely to do all they can to maximize yield. Organic farming is not for them. Maybe organic farming is more for wealthier countries and those with ample land.

As for produce, almost all of us should try to consume more fresh produce.
Those on a tight budget should not buy the more expensive organic produce.

So there is no good evidence thus far that organic foods are worth the extra price.
I would advise that you have the money and prefer organic foods, for whatever reason, go ahead buy organic.   

But don't feel holier or healthier if you do! 

What do you think? Am I wrong? Let me know.

Dan Weiss MD CDE FACP PNS CPI




4 comments:

  1. Saw this in the Lake County News Herald, found it an interesting article.
    I am curious about the pesticide comparisons. Less pesticides is a reason I use some organic fruits and vegitables.
    I have concerns about blueberries that are grown in Mexico and Central or South American countries and then imported into the U.S.A. during our winter.
    Does the USDA have the resources to test for pesticides on the vast numbers of imported fruits and does the study mentioned take into account imported fruit, specifically blueberries.

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    1. The study described in this post did evaluate pesticide residue and found differences that were very small. It is recommended that such berries be thoroughly rinsed before consumption.

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  2. I read this article in the News Herald and want to say thank you for your candid post. As a traditional dairy farmer in Geauga County, I know ALL milk (organic or traditional) is the same healthy, safe, nutritious product. There are some differences in the production process, but no difference in the final product in the grocery store. It's frustrating that people automatically think organic equals healthier and more environmentally friendly. As you point out, this simply isn't true.

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    1. Dairy Mom thanks for your comment. Yes, people are easily duped by well-chosen and marketed labels or terms. They like "no chemicals" or "all natural" etc.

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