Stanford Research Shows Organic Food Isn’t More Nutritious Than Conventional

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Over the last decade the word ‘organic’ has changed from being an obscure one to a general buzzword that everybody seeks to smack on their produce. These days you can even find organic food in Walmart, and everywhere people are extolling the benefits of eating ‘organic’, from local farmers to news anchors to foodies.

Yet a recent meta-analysis of hundreds of different studies on the part of Stanford researchers just revealed that on a purely nutrition-related level organic food isn’t superior to conventionally grown food. What does this mean for you, and should you stop buying organic?

The researchers looked at over 200 separate studies on the nutritional value of organic food and concluded that other than phosphorous, organic food is not superior to conventional food. This study was independently funded so that the researchers could not be accused of bias.

“When we began this project, we thought that there would likely be some findings that would support the superiority of organics over conventional food,” said Dr. Dena Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy and the senior author of the paper, which appears in Tuesday’s issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. “I think we were definitely surprised.”

However, there has been a strong pushback from many activists and proponents of organic food. The original label was created to mark produce that was grown in an environmentally sustainable fashion, with no pesticides or other destructive fertilizers. The USDA defines organic as:

“A production system that is managed in accordance with the Act and regulations in this part to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” 

Therein lies the value of organic food: in a world that is rapidly experiencing climate shift and environmental damage, it is essential that we seek to protect our resources by not exhausting them through conventional growth practices, and in turn cleanse our bodies of chemicals and poisons.

Organic Food Contains Less Pesticides

However, the study did find a number of benefits to organic food, even if they weren’t able to point out a nutrition related one. The Standford study found that conventionally grown produce was 40% likely to have some pesticide on it, while organic food was only 7% likely. While the amount of pesticides fell within the limits set by the FDA as ‘safe’, that is still a poison that you are ingesting, and which will have a cumulative effect on your system.

Organic milk was found to contain higher levels of Omega-3’s, which has recently become a celebrity nutrient for its role its anti-inflammatory effects.

Further, organic chicken and pork were less likely to be contaminated by antibiotic resistant bacteria. This is an important detail because for decades conventional farming has been feeding animals antibiotics to keep them healthy despite their awful living conditions. This has had the effect of both preventing the animals from becoming ill, and breeding strains of bacteria that are increasingly resistant to antibiotics. The Stanford study shows that this is increasingly the case.

Should you change your purchasing habits if you have been buying organic?

It all depends. If you have been doing so because you believe that organic food is nutritionally superior, than it is understandable that you might be disappointed. However, if you care about sustainable farming practices, the prevention of development of antibiotic resistant bacteria, and avoiding ingesting pesticides, additives and other artificial chemicals, than you should continue to support organic food for the original reasons they were first created for.
Phil Tucker is a health and fitness writer that is always seeking to educate himself further on the latest nutrition trends.
Photographs courtesy of smith and Robert S. Donovan.

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