A recent Stanford University Study found that organic foods are not more nutritious than those that are conventionally grown. This finding was the result of a review of about 200 studies looking at the health, nutritional, and safety characteristics of organic vs. conventionally grown meat and produce.
The results were a surprise to many and created such a firestorm of media attention and headlines that I decided to take a closer look at the Stanford review and what benefits, if any, organic foods have to offer.
The Stanford Review
There were some major flaws in the review, including the following:
- They did not consistently compare the same varieties of fruits and vegetables grown in similar locations.
- They narrowly defined nutritious as having more nutrients and did not include the amount of bacteria or number of pesticides in their definition of nutritious.
- They excluded evaluating a host of nutrients that are typically higher in organic produce.
- The way they analyzed the data was more effective for a single medication and not the diverse array of nutrients found in food.
Additionally, the review was published at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford which receives major funding from Cargill. Cargill is a large multinational corporation that buys and distributes grain and other agricultural products; processes, refines, and distributes oil and glucose syrup; and slaughters cows for beef, to name a few of its businesses. Cargill also contributed nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the “No on Prop 37” campaign to label genetically engineered foods. Clearly, they are not supporters of organic foods! I recommend taking the results of the Stanford review with a very large grain of salt.
So what are the benefits of organic foods?
- They have fewer pesticides! Even low levels of pesticides can cause developmental problems in children, such as a lower IQ. Pesticides also harm farmer workers and wildlife around farms. I can't help but wonder what low levels over a long period of time doing to us.
- Organic fruits and vegetables are generally 5 to 15 percent higher in nutrients, but they can be 30 to 100 percent higher in some cases. And they are much higher in the health-enhancing phytochemicals that plants create to fight off pests.
- Organic produce can have a longer shelf life since they have more antibacterial phenolic acids under their skin, which helps prevent mold, bacterial growth, and thus spoilage.
- Organic foods have more microbial diversity with plenty of healthy bacteria. So if unhealthy bacteria are introduced, they are not as likely to multiply and cause health problems for us.
- Organic meats and poultry do not contain antibiotics. Conventionally grown meats and poultry usually do. And conventionally grown are also more likely to contain bacteria that are resistant to 3 or more types of antibiotics!
- Organic foods are free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
- Organic foods are better for the environment. They reduce the number of pesticides and other toxins found in the air, water, and so
As you can see, organics have a lot to offer. Since they are more expensive than conventionally grown produce and meats, you can save money by:
- shopping at farmers markets or specialty store such as Trader Joe’s
- growing your own veggies and planting a fruit tree if you have a yard
- choosing organic versions of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables. See the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list here.
So are you ready to switch to organic foods? I am.
Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD