How Organic are Your Organics?

How Organic are Your Organics?

Abbygail Reid, Managing Editor

Once found only in health food stores, organic foods are now a regular feature at most supermarkets. In our cash-strapped economy, more than 70 percent of consumers buy organic food occasionally and nearly one quarter of Americans buy it every week, according to the market research firm the Hartman Group. Considering organic is often priced up to 50 percent more than conventional foods, you have to wonder: Is it really worth the extra cost?

A recent Stanford study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine aims to compare organic and conventional foods. Organic food, they concluded, might not be more nutritious but will likely lower your exposure to pesticides and dangerous bacteria.

Conventional and organic produce scored equally on vitamin and mineral content. Only one nutrient — phosphorus — was significantly higher in organic versus conventionally grown produce. There was no difference in protein or fat content between organic and conventional milk, though evidence from a few studies suggested that organic milk may contain significantly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

“We did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or healthier than conventional foods,” says Dr. Crystal Smith-Spangler, an instructor in the division of general medical disciplines at Stanford. “And both organic and conventional foods seem to have a similar risk of contamination with bacteria, so consumers shouldn’t assume that one type of food has a lower risk or is safer in terms of food-borne illnesses. Both are equally likely to be contaminated.”

Surprisingly, in order for a product to be considered organic, it doesn’t have to be made up of 100% organic ingredients but only 70%. However, the study did find that organic produce were 30% less likely to have pesticide residue than conventional fruits and vegetables, which makes sense given that organic farmers depend less on synthetic pest-control methods.

Based on the few studies included in the analysis that compared health outcomes in people eating organic vs. conventional, there was no evidence that one group was healthier than the other. Some of the studies found that children eating organic produce had lower levels of pesticide residue in their urine than those consuming conventional produce, but the numbers were too small to draw any general conclusions.