On July 14, 2014, the British Journal of Nutrition published a research article about the nutrition content of organic foods compared to conventional foods. The article reviewed 343 studies of organic compared to conventional foods. It concluded that the organic foods contained slightly more antioxidants, slightly fewer pesticide residues, and lower levels of the toxic metal cadmium. The next day, the Los Angeles Times published a story about the article with the headline, “Organic foods more nutritious, according to review of 343 studies.”
The LA Times article quoted the study co-author, Charles Benbrook, as saying, “This shows clearly that organically grown fruits, vegetables and grains deliver tangible nutrition and food safety benefits.” Dr. Benbrook went on to say, “Buying organic is the surest way of limiting exposure if you have health issues, but by all means, people need to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables whether it’s organic or conventional.”
There was, however, some disagreement with the conclusion that organic foods are more nutritious. The same day, Ian Musgrove, senior lecturer in pharmacology at the University of Adelaide in Australia, expressed an opposing opinion in a blog at www.theconversation.com. He pointed out that only a few of the many foods tested were more nutritious than conventional foods and those few that were better were only slightly better. He cited the slightly higher content of vitamin C, carotenoids and antioxidants in organic foods as examples where the difference between organic and conventional is too small to make a meaningful difference in a person’s diet. He went on to say that some organic foods do indeed have lower levels of pesticides and cadmium than conventional foods, but that the levels in both are far below the level at which they might cause harm in our diet.
I tend to agree that the advantages of organic foods are small and not significant enough to warrant the extra cost. One possible exception is milk for children. Organic milk may have less in the way of estrogen-like chemicals that are found in conventional milk and that may be linked to slightly increased rates of testicular, prostate and breast cancer. Any harm in conventional milk (from milk factories) compared to organic milk (from happy and contented, antibiotic-free cows) has yet to be proven, but it may be one case worthy of erring on the safe side.
How about you? Which argument is more persuasive? Are there certain foods for which you choose the organic option? Feel free to share your comments with the other readers.