The differences in organic produce may not be relevant, researchers say
By Scott Douglas
Organic foods aren't generally more nutritious than those grown conventionally, according to a research review published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The review, which looked at 17 original studies on nutrient and contaminant levels, also found that there's a 30 per cent lower risk of pesticide contamination in organic produce than conventionally grown produce. According to the analysis, 7 per cent of organic produce samples were contaminated with pesticide compared to 38 per cent of conventional produce samples. The study authors wrote that this difference may not be clinically relevant because the risks of exceeding maximum allowed pesticide exposure for both types of produce was small.
The only nutrient found to be significantly higher in organic food was phosphorus, but this may not be a clinically relevant difference because phosphorus deficiency is unlikely. Other nutrients found in higher levels in organic foods were phenols in produce and omega-3 fatty acids in milk and chicken.
There were no differences in bacterial contamination between organic and conventional produce and animal products, although bacterial contamination was common in both types of animal products. However, conventional chicken and pork were 33 per cent more likely to contain antibiotic resistant bacteria.
“What this study did is look at a large number of previous studies, which is one of the most powerful types of research you can do because you’re analysing the results of hundreds of studies and not just one, so I do think it’s a good study,” says Liz Applegate, Ph.D., Runner's World nutrition columnist and director of sports nutrition at the University of California at Davis.
Applegate says what's more important than how produce is grown is how much of it you eat.
“We all need to eat more fruits and vegetables, whether they are conventionally grown or organic," says Applegate. "Some people make a choice between the two based on cost or based on benefits to the environment.”
And, notes Applegate, there are reasons other than nutrition to consider organically grown and raised foods.
“Is an organic strawberry more nutritious than a conventionally grown one? Sometimes maybe, sometimes no," she says. "It’s not consistent and it’s not a black-and-white science. But that doesn’t negate the benefit of choosing organic to help the environment. And perhaps as more soil improvements happen through organic farming we’ll start to see more changes in nutrient content of organic foods.”
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