Thursday, September 6, 2012

Organic Foods Are Not More Nutritious

If you’ve watched a newscast this week you can hardly have missed it.  News flash!  Organic foods are no more nutritious than conventional foods.  There seemed to be a self-righteous tone to some of these reports, as if the “discovery” proved something important (or gave the reporter a justification for NOT choosing organic foods him/herself :).

In the study highlighted in the news this week, researchers at Stanford University reviewed and summarized virtually all the data available from 223 previous studies in which the nutritional value of organic and conventional foods were compared.  Taken together, the studies showed no significant difference in nutritional value between organic and conventional foods.  And in the very few studies in which the health effects of eating organic foods were assessed, there were no obvious health benefits, either.  In essence, this is not "new" news, but a rehash of old news.

And so what?  People who choose organic foods don’t necessarily choose them because they think they are more nutritious.  The primary concern of most organic food buyers is a belief that the ingestion of pesticides and herbicides is harmful, especially to pregnant women and young children.  And yes, the researchers DID find that organic foods had fewer (and lower) pesticide residues than conventional foods.   (Most news reports were quick to point out that the levels of pesticides in conventional foods were within acceptable limits according to current regulations).  By the way, where organic foods get their pesticide residues is not clear; contamination of equipment used to harvest or transport organic foods, blow-by of spray from nearby non-organic farms, even cheating by organic farmers are all possibilities.

Some people choose organic foods out of concern for the environmental impact of excessive use of pesticides and other chemicals, such as antibiotics.   Others think they may taste better; still others wish to support smaller local organic farmers.  These are certainly valid reasons. So choose organic foods if you wish and if you can afford them – just don’t do it because you believe they are more nutritious.

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