Yesterday morning, researchers at Stanford University published a meta-analysis on the health benefits of Organic vs. Conventional Food. They didn’t find any. By nightfall, hundreds of news outlets had published stories online. Before we dive in to the details, here is the conclusion drawn by the scientists, verbatim:
The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
What you need to know:
A meta-analysis is not new research. It basically is a review of all previously published studies to find trends, analyze them and draw conclusions. The Stanford researchers went over a few hundred papers published on the subject in the last few years.
The data sets used encompassed a wide variety of foods – from fruits, to vegetables, to dairy and meat. Each original study had different conclusions. In some cases organic was shown to be more nutritious, in others – less. The overall AVERAGE was about the same.
But nutrient levels are not the main selling point of organic food. Most people turn to organic for other reasons:
- Personal health reasons – no pesticides, antibiotics, or industrial ingredients added. Amplify this when parents are buying for young children. Some see it as an insurance policy.
- Green reasons – more sustainable, better paid farmers and workers, more socially responsible companies, more compassionate animal husbandry.
Oh, and in many cases, the organic product simply tastes MUCH BETTER than its conventional counterpart.
If organic food was as cheap as conventional food, everyone would switch over in a heartbeat. But it’s not, and so each family must compromise based on its financial capability, values, and priorities. There is no one right answer.
But what’s even more important for the vast majority of Americans is NOT to worry about organic vs conventional food. It’s the switch from processed food to whole foods. It’s to double and triple the consumption of vegetables and fruits from current average levels.
Because the risk of getting cancer due to pesticides is orders of magnitude lower than the risk of diseases related to obesity brought on by nutrient poor diets.