Recently, Stanford University doctors conducted a study questioning the benefits of organic foods and the results were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine this month. Researcher Crystal Smith-Sprangler and colleagues reviewed more than 200 prior studies that compared the health of people who ate organic foods to people who eat non-organic foods; they also looked at prior studies that evaluated nutrient and contaminant levels in various foods. Their conclusion: organic foods are NOT healthier or more nutritious than non-organic foods!
But what does that mean? My first reaction was: I don’t eat organic because of perceived nutritional benefits; I eat organic foods to lower my exposure to pesticides and antibiotics. Interesting enough, this is exactly what these researcher noted as well; and despite questioning the benefits of eating organic, they did admit to several glaring limitations of their study:
1. Out of the 240 prior studies that they examined, there were plenty of studies that DID find a nutritional benefit to eating organic food. For example, organic produce tends to contain more antioxidants and phosphorus while organic milk and chicken contain more omega-3 fatty acids. This means that meta-analysis showed MIXED results of the benefits of eating organic.
2. They did not consider long-term studies of the risks of repetitive exposure to pesticides from non-organic foods. Most of the studies used in this meta-analysis followed patients for less than 2 years whereas patients exposed to repetitive carcinogens are followed for much longer to asses their cancer risks.
3. Organic agriculture is better for the environment.
4. To be considered organic, foods must be void of antibiotics, which is a highly important feature in the face of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. The Stanford study demonstrated that non-organic poultry and pork contained 33% higher levels of anti-biotic resistant bacteria!
5. Out of hundreds of studies examined, only 3 studies looked at health outcomes in human populations. Two of the studies compared rate of allergies in children who ate organic vs. non-organic foods.
My take home message for you is: Although eating organic foods is more expensive, it does provide health benefits such as reduced exposure to pesticides and antibiotics as well as benefits for the environment. Please consider reviewing the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of the produce with the highest pesticides.