A common mantra of the organic food movement is that food grown in a healthy way is healthier for you. Well, it turns out that might not actually be the case.
A new study out of Stanford University compared organic fruits and vegetables with their conventionally grown counter parts for nutrients. They found that the expensive, organic goods were no more nutritious than their lowly conventional brothers and sisters. The same researchers came to the same conclusion about meats - no obvious health advantages.
The press release sums up the study's methodology:
For their study, the researchers sifted through thousands of papers and identified 237 of the most relevant to analyze. Those included 17 studies (six of which were randomized clinical trials) of populations consuming organic and conventional diets, and 223 studies that compared either the nutrient levels or the bacterial, fungal or pesticide contamination of various products (fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, milk, poultry, and eggs) grown organically and conventionally. There were no long-term studies of health outcomes of people consuming organic versus conventionally produced food; the duration of the studies involving human subjects ranged from two days to two years.
Aside from phosphorous, no other nutrient was more prevalent in organic foods than in conventionally grown products. While the study did find higher levels of pesticides on non-orgnanic goodies, they were always within health regulations, and below dangerous levels.
If you're surprised by the results, so were the study authors. The New York Times reports:
“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.”
And, before you write this study off as an attack on organic funded by big factory farm machines (which certainly exist) this study was entirely funded internally. No outside funding pushed the study either way.
These results probably won't impact the sale of organic food in the United States, which has grown quickly in the last few years. Since 2010, the Organic Trade Association estimates that sales of organic food has increased 12 percent, to $12.4 billion. And not everyone buys organic for the health benefits. Some people choose the green sticker for social or economic reasons. Others simply think the food tastes better. But if you're buying it solely for health reasons, your money is probably better spent elsewhere.
Image: Mike Coghlan