Friday, October 14, 2011

Research Update: Are Organic Foods Healthier For You?

Nutrition Related Health Effects Of Organic Foods: A Systematic Review
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2010; 92:203-10.

Objective: To conduct an exhaustive review of the current literature on the subject of organically grown food and health.

Methods:  This article is a review paper.  The literature was extensively searched for any research on the affects of organic foods on health.  The authors initially identified 98,727 articles, but surprisingly, only 12 articles met their inclusion criterion.  The studies included hypothesized that organically grown foods would have a positive impact on health when compared to conventionally grown food.

Results:  The studies looked at a variety of outcomes, including antioxidant content, LDL oxidation, phenol content, effects on serum glucose and triglycerides, immune function, flavinoid content and antioxidant capability.  The authors concluded that evidence was lacking for any nutrition related health effects of organically grown food.   All they mentioned was a significantly reduced risk of eczema in infants fed organic milk when compared to infants drinking regular milk.  The authors also cited a recent systematic review of the past 50 years that showed that organically and conventionally grown foods are highly comparable in their nutrient content.

Discussion:  This study may be a bit surprising to many and certainly a bit controversial.  In general, organic produce and meats are much more expensive than conventionally grown.  Most buyers of organically produced foods spend this extra money for one of 2 reasons:

1) They think that there are more nutrients in organic foods.
2) They think that organic food will have a more positive impact on their health than conventionally grown food.

According to the research, neither appears to be true.  Furthermore, this is not the first time I’ve seen this in the literature.

Take Home Message: If you like to buy organic produce and meats and can easily afford to do so, by all means continue.  Some people feel that organic foods are “greener” for the environment and that animals that are organically raised are treated more humanely.  This very well may be true.  However, if you are buying organic produce because you think it is more nutritious or will result in improved health, there is very little evidence up to this point in time that this is true.

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