In a recent Washington Post report, a writer mentioned that one of their readers took issue with his contention that studies don’t show that organic fruits and vegetables are measurably more nutritious than agriculture grown through conventional means. The most recent data on this came from a massive literature review commissioned by Britain’s Food Safety Agency (their version of our FDA) and conducted by Britain’s London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. They concluded that a “systematic review of literature over 50 years finds no evidence for superior nutritional content of organic produce.”
The reader had a couple of problems with this. He noted that the Organic Center – an outlet funded by organic food companies – has published studies coming to a different result. He also observed that they published a critique of the British survey. Among their criticisms was that the [British] team did not include total antioxidant capacity among the nutrients studied, which made the writer suspicious, given the wealth of studies showing that antioxidants do not appear to reduce the risk of cancer or heart disease or anything else. Meanwhile, many consumers have strongly held beliefs that organic foods retain greater nutritional value and are safer due to a reducted intake of soil, earth and less chemicals in our bodies.
Obviously, these folks commenting on the issue are not epidemiologists and they are not nutritional scientists. They admit that it is difficult to be able to fully evaluate the validity of competing studies on these issues. The reader also made a circumstantial argument about nitrates that is plausible, but hasn’t been studied. As always, you should always come to your own conclusions. Check it out for yourself and decide.
“We should be concentrating on encouraging people to eat more fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables,” says B.J. Friedman, a nutritionist at Texas State University-San Marcos. She points out that only one-quarter of Americans eat the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Americans need to be more conscious of the needs of a well-balanced diet and to include more fruits and vegetables on routine shopping trips.
At any rate, the hard evidence of health benefits for organic foods has been mixed at best. There are no long-term studies showing that consumption of organic foods will make people healthier over a long period of time. That is not to say organic foods are bad. They might taste better, or be more environmentally friendly. We might even eventually find that they are healthier. But some experts believe it is much more important to get people to eat fruits and vegetables in general than getting fruit and vegetable eaters to switch to organics.