September 09, 2012
Little Health Benefit From Organic Foods?

Organic isn't a ticket to great health.

STANFORD, Calif. You're in the supermarket eyeing a basket of sweet, juicy plums. You reach for the conventionally grown stone fruit, then decide to spring the extra $1/pound for its organic cousin. You figure you've just made the healthier decision by choosing the organic product but new findings from Stanford University cast some doubt on your thinking.

"There isn't much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you're an adult and making a decision based solely on your health," said Dena Bravata, MD, MS, the senior author of a paper comparing the nutrition of organic and non-organic foods, to be published in the Sept. 4 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

A team led by Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford's Center for Health Policy, and Crystal Smith-Spangler, MD, MS, an instructor in the school's Division of General Medical Disciplines and a physician-investigator at VA Palo Alto Health Care System, did the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date of existing studies comparing organic and conventional foods. They did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives, though consumption of organic foods can reduce the risk of pesticide exposure.

My take: There's a real advantage to be gained from shifting away from eating cheaper less healthy non-organic foods toward more expensive and healthier non-organic foods. In particular, drop cheap grains in favor of more expensive fruits and vegetables. For fruits eat more berries, cherries, and dark grapes (darker have more good chemicals). Concentrations of polyphenols and other healthy compounds are higher in berries and cherries than in cheaper large fruits like bananas and peaches. Same for vegetables. Go for the ones with the richest colors (no worthless iceberg lettuce when you can go for arugula and radicchio instead) and smaller sizes.

So if you are limiting the quality of your food due to budget limits don't splurge on organic when you can splurge on strawberries, kiwis, and blackberries. Also, want to improve your root vegetable diet? Get some sweet potatoes. Lots of carotenoids and other beneficial chemicals.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 September 09 05:18 PM  Aging Diet Studies

Fat Man said at September 9, 2012 6:40 PM:

Organic produce?

Yeah, right.

Let us say you are running a produce wholesaler, you have two boxes of apples. One has blemished apples, and one has unblemished apples.

Which one gets the organic sticker?

Are you people really that naive?

Aaron (halotek) said at September 9, 2012 7:29 PM:

Fat man, you can take what you said 2 ways. A producer might want to put the organic sticker on the blemished apples because people might still buy the organic one thinking that the process is more natural hense more blemishes. Or the producer might slap the label on the unblemished ones thinking he can command top dollar for one vs lesser for the blemished ones.

John said at September 10, 2012 1:00 AM:

By definition organic foods are supposed to be grown without pesticides. Therefore, when you buy the more expensive organic product you make a decision to avoid the potential long term cancer that can be caused by pesticides. For example, studies have found as many as ten different pesticides in apples, some of them even banned.
Pesticides safety quantities are based on the amount (of ONE pesticide) which gives cancer to rats, extrapolated to the average consumption of people (e.g. an apple a day). There are no studies about the long term effects of pesticides cocktails. So I'd rather not play the guinea pig.
The quoted study forgets that people don't buy organic foods for a higher vitamin content (organic farming cannot change the genetic background!). However, this is a good approach because it directs attention from the real issue.
Of course there it's important to consider also the issue of whether organic labels are properly audited to eliminate fraudulent labelling.
Finally, the question here is whether pesticides companies funded this study.

PacRim Jim said at September 10, 2012 10:36 AM:

There just could be a placebo effect.

DirkY said at September 17, 2012 1:02 AM:

I am too lazy to wash fruit properly so I buy organic fruit with edible skins but conventional bananas, waltermelon etc. Pesticides are most likely to cause cancer amoung those without other strong risk factors like obesity and smoking. Anything that is linked to cancer may also cause inflammation.

False labeling of organic food is a criminal offense in California.

Bee said at September 17, 2012 7:25 PM:

The dramatic drop in scientific reasoning on this blog is growing more notable ... The rational for organic foodsvis lame ... Reason is co-opted by feel good tummy bumps

Live And Eat Organic said at September 21, 2012 5:29 AM:

Can you please explain that Why people used to mention organic foods are only has little health benefits. If any specific reason then it's my pleasure to understand the truth behind organic foods.

Groat said at October 1, 2012 3:12 PM:

John: "(organic farming cannot change the genetic background!)."

Actually, one of the major points of organic food is that it isn't GMO, so yes, it does mean a different genetic background.

You might think I'm nitpicking, but to me it's the difference between buying organic or not. I'm not going to spend extra because people are scared of frankenpotatoes when it doesn't translate into a health difference. I would spend a little extra just to go pesticide free.

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