Are Organic Foods Healthier?

Are Organic Fruits and Vegetables Worth the Cost?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Are organic foods healthier for us than conventionally grown foods, particularly organic fruits and vegetables? The controversy about the benefits of organically raised produce continues. In fact, about the only thing that all sides agree on is that:

  • Organic foods have lower pesticide and herbicide residues and cause less environmental pollution.
  • Organic foods generally cost more.

But that is where all agreement ends.

Some experts argue that the pesticide levels on conventionally grown produce are within safe levels and that any risk from the pesticides is outweighed by the health benefits of the fruits and vegetables themselves.

Some studies have suggested that organically grown produce may be nutritionally superior because it has higher antioxidant levels, while other studies have reported no nutritional differences between organic and conventionally grown produce.

 

Benefits of Organic Food

The present study (Baranski et al, British Journal of Nutrition, doi: 10.1017/S0007114514001366) tried to overcome the shortcomings of many of the previously published reports.

To begin with, this study was a meta-analysis that combined the results from 343 of the best designed previous studies to increase the statistical power of the analysis. In addition, the investigators utilized a type of statistical analysis that was superior to previously published studies.

In short, it was a very good study. And, it does show some benefit of organic food.

The results were fairly clear cut:

  • Pesticide residues were four-fold lower in the organically raised produce than the conventionally raised produce. This result has been consistently seen in all of the previously published studies, and is probably the #1 reason that people choose organic produce.
  • Polyphenol antioxidant levels were significantly higher in the organically raised produce. The percent increase ranged from 19% to 69% depending on the polyphenolic compound tested. This increase has not been seen in all previously published studies, but would represent a side benefit if true.
  • Levels of the toxic metal cadmium were significantly less in the organically grown produce. The authors speculated that the cadmium found in conventionally grown produce came from the inorganic fertilizers that were used.

 

Should You Choose Organic Supplements?

If organic foods are better for you than conventionally grown foods, does that mean that you should also choose organic supplements? While that idea sounds logical, the reality is actually more complex.

While organic foods have less pesticides and toxic metals than conventionally grown foods, the level of those contaminants is not zero – even with organic certification. The problem is that our environment is so polluted that no farm is contaminant free.
A farmer can use the best organic practices, but if their groundwater is contaminated or pesticides from neighboring farms blow on to their farm, some of those toxic residues end up in their “organic” crops.
So with supplements a seal of “Organic” certification is not an absolute guarantee of purity. Instead you should insist on getting your supplements from a company with a very rigorous quality control program and a policy of rejecting any raw materials that contain contaminants of any kind.

The Bottom Line

1)     The latest study shows that pesticide residues are four-fold lower in the organically raised produce than the conventionally raised produce. This result has been consistently seen in all of the previously published studies, and is probably the #1 reason that people choose organic produce.

2)    Polyphenol antioxidant levels were significantly higher in the organically raised produce. The percent increase ranged from 19% to 69% depending on the polyphenolic compound tested. This increase has not been seen in all previously published studies, but would represent a side benefit if true.

3)    While one of the benefits of organic foods is they are less likely to be contaminated than conventionally grown foods, an organic certification is not a sufficient proof of purity when you are choosing supplements.

You should insist on getting your supplements from a company with a very rigorous quality control program and a policy of rejecting any raw materials that contain contaminants of any kind.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

 

Dr. ChaneyAbout The Author

Dr. Chaney has a BS in Chemistry from Duke University and a PhD in Biochemistry from UCLA. He is Professor Emeritus from the University of North Carolina where he taught biochemistry and nutrition to medical and dental students for 40 years.

Dr. Chaney won numerous teaching awards at UNC, including the Academy of Educators “Excellence in Teaching Lifetime Achievement Award”. Dr Chaney also ran an active cancer research program at UNC and published over 100 scientific articles and reviews in peer-reviewed scientific journals. In addition, he authored two chapters on nutrition in one of the leading biochemistry text books for medical students.

 

Additional Resources to Help You:

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