Ask anyone what they think when they hear the word “healthy”, and more often than not the word “organic” pops to mind. A quick trip to any decently stocked grocery store would display an array of organic foods, organic beverages, organic skin products and even organic clothing.
In the organic vs. non-organic food showdown, the real question is: Are organic foods truly superior to their non-organic counterparts? Anything labelled “organic” certainly does not come free of cost – indeed, these products usually incur a significant surcharge for the ever-sought “organic” stamp of approval.
Many experts believe that there is no additional benefit to eating organic food. (1) Some people even believe that the organic movement is a clever gimmick by grocers and markets to sell produce and food products at an escalated price, while not providing the consumer any additional benefits, nutritional or otherwise.
Others, however, truly believe that organic produce is of superior quality, offering improved nutritional content, safer consumption and even better taste, justifying the usual inflated price-tag that accompanies the purchase. With the organic movement, we see a global rise in the availability of organic produce and food, as well as a steady increase in new grocers dedicated to selling organic food products exclusively.
Organic Food – Is the Price Tag Worth Your Health?
Are these increases in resources dedicated to organic foods justified? The evidence is somewhat conflicting.
A study performed by Washington State University confirmed that a consumer’s risk of encountering pesticide residues are significantly decreased with organic food, referencing a Consumers Union study which looked at more than 94,000 food samples and 20 different crops.
However, there are some concerns regarding the levels of natural toxins generated by organic produce – as there are minimal or no synthetic pesticides used with organic crops, organic plants may produce more of their own natural toxins to counteract weeds and pests. (2) Another large prospective study examined 623,080 women in the UK to determine if eating an organic diet reduced the risk of certain cancers. The women self-reported the frequency of consumption of organic food over a period of nine years. The study concluded that there was little or no decrease in the incidence of cancer with the consumption of organic food, “except possibly for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma”. (3)
Paradoxically, a systematic literature review performed by Baranski et al., published in September 2014 in the British Journal of Nutrition, showed that levels of certain minerals and antioxidants, important for reducing cardiovascular and neurodegenerative risk factors, as well as certain cancers, were found to be substantially higher in organic crops versus conventionally grown (non-organic) crops. Lower residues of the toxic metal Cadmium and pesticide residue (four times less residue) were also found with organic crops. (4)
Some studies also touch on the fact that children who eat an organic diet have a tendency to lower body weight and less allergies. Another interesting fact is that animals appear to not only to be able to distinguish between organic and non-organic produce, but they prefer organic food. (5)
What is evident, however, is that further research is required in order to unquestionably determine the effect of an organic diet on human health and disease risk. Equally as important, though beyond the scope of this article, are the effects of organic versus conventional farming on crops, soil and health of the agro-ecosystem.
Yes, You Should Eat Organic Food
What does this mean for you and your health? Though the evidence remains somewhat inconclusive, this does not mean that there is no benefit to eating organic food. (After all, asbestos was once considered safe as well). Your doctor may not be able to say definitely that it is truly healthier to eat an organic diet, but the data relays that there is no harm in following an organic diet. Also, there appears to be certain benefits to your micronutrient health and overall well-being with an organic diet.
If organic produce is available and within your financial means, you may wish to start incorporating organic foods into your diet if you don’t already. This may mean a bit of a pricier grocery bill each week, but think of it as a long term investment in your health – you may not see immediate gains, but further down the years, the benefits of increased anti-oxidant consumption, potential decrease in cancer risk, improved nutrition and lower chemical and pesticide exposure will improve and support a healthy lifestyle.
As John Reganold, professor of soil science at Washington State University, once said, “Is [an organic diet] going to make a difference? I don’t know, but it’s something to think about, and we’re the guinea pigs.” (2)
Yours in health,
- Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunger GE, Bavinger Jc, Pearson M, Eschbach PJ et al. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: a systematic review. Ann Intern Med [Internet]. 2012 Sep [cited 2015 Jan 30]; 157(5):348-66. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22944875
- WebMD [homepage on the Internet]. New York; c2005-2015 [cited on 2015 Jan 30]. Available from: http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/organic-food-better
- Bradbury KE, Balkwill A, Spencer EA, Roddam AW, Reeves GK, Green J et all. Organic food consumption and the incidence of cancer in a large prospective study of women in the United Kingdom. Br J Cancer [Internet]. 2014 Apr [cited 2015 Feb 8]; 110(9):2321-6. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24675385
- Baranski M, Srednicka-Tober D, Volakakis N, Seal C, Sanderson R, Stewart GB et all. Higher antioxident and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. Br J Nutr [Internet]. 2014 Sep [cited 2015 Feb 8]; 112(5):794-811. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24968103
- Johansson E, Hussain A, Ramune K, Staffan A, Olsson M. Contribtion of organically gorwn crops to human health. Int J Environ Res Public Health [Internet]. 2014 Apr [cited on 2015 Feb 8]; 11(4):3870-3893. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4025038/