Thursday, January 10, 2013

Organic vs. Conventional: Which is 'Healthier'?

So many options in the produce section these days.

  'Is Organic Food a Hoax?'

  I've seen this headline, and others like it, far too many times the past few months. And frankly, they have me irked. I find them misleading and irresponsible.

  A Stanford study, released early-September of 2012, claims to have found "little evidence of health benefits from organic foods" and that, organic foods are 'no healthier' than conventional (chemical) foods. The report spurred an influx of question marks hurled at the organic food industry.

  Almost immediately after the report was released, news reports, articles, blogs, you name it, questioned whether organics were worth the expense, and sported headlines stating organics were no healthier or 'better for you' than conventional products.

  Sadly, they've missed the point.

The Study
  Stanford University researchers conducted the "most comprehensive meta-analysis (review) to date of existing studies comparing organic and conventional foods." After analyzing the data, the researchers found "little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods."

  No "consistent differences" were found between vitamin content of organic and conventional products. Only one nutrient, phosphorus, was significantly higher in organic products.

  No difference in protein or fat content between organic and conventional milk were found, among other results.

  Alas the statement, "organic foods are no healthier than conventional food".

  Honestly, the findings are not surprising. Call me crazy, but the organic industry has never claimed its food to be more nutrient dense, or 'healthier' than conventional foods. 

What Does Healthier Mean to You?
  If 'healthier', to you, refers ONLY to nutritional content -- how many calories, grams of vitamin C, protein, fat, or carbohydrate a product has -- then of course, organic and conventional foods are not much different.

  The Stanford researchers narrowly defined 'health' solely based on those terms.

  The premise behind organic is NOT that they any MORE nutritious. It's what you're avoiding: the CHEMICALS, HORMONES, and ANTIBIOTICS that come with conventional foods.

Organic or conventional???
Real Findings
  Buried in the report was this small statement, however: "though consumption of organic foods can reduce the risk of pesticide exposure." THAT has been the claim, and will always be the claim of organic foods.

  It's not what you will GAIN from eating them, but what you will AVOID.

  Aside from the attention-grabbing headlines, these were the ACTUAL findings of the study:
  • Organic foods were just as nutritious as conventional foods.
  • Conventional produce were more likely to carry pesticide residues.
  • Organic milk contained more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Conventional meat was more likely to be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Conflicting Studies
  Nutrition research on organic foods are still in their beginnings. There have not been many studies conducted, and there are numerous variables that can have one affect or another on nutrient content. Ripeness of a piece of fruit, for example, directly affects nutritional value.

  Findings from another recent study, at Washington State, directly opposes the Stanford report. When comparing strawberries, it was found that organically grown berries had higher levels of antioxidants and vitamin C. But I'm willing to bet most missed those headlines.

  So who, and what, are we to believe?

  Above all, we're trying to avoid chemicals. Hopefully we all saw through the smoke screen, and remembered that is one of the goals in attaining 'health'.

Stanford Organic Study
Is Organic Food a Hoax?
Stanford Organics Study Misses the Point
Is Organic Food Worth the Expense?
Why Organic? Answer to Stanford Study
Debunking the Debunkers of Organics
Is the Stanford Organics Study a Threat to Our Health?
Consumer Reports: Don't Give Up on Organic Food
Organic Strawberries are Better


  1. Hi Sabrina!
    I couldn't agree more. I also think that the environmental benefits of organically produced food are important to bear in mind when we talk about human health. Environmental health generally results in improved human health, whether it be in cleaner drinking water and air, or reductions in exposure to environmental toxins.
    Amanda (Rau) Stamper

    1. Hi Amanda! :) I agree 100%! Organic food has a lot more to do with our world than just 'healthy' foods. Everything runs off somewhere, from the farms, to the rivers, to the oceans. Organic farming could go a long ways toward helping our environmental issues.