‘Largest research effort’ yet confirms nutritional superiority of organic crops

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July 17, 2014


Back in 2012, when the news media were trumpeting the claim by a team of Stanford University doctors that the nutritional differences between organic and conventional foods were “insignificant,” we responded by citing various studies offering clear evidence that organic foods were nutritionally superior in a number of ways.

Now, a new study in the United Kingdom described as “the largest research effort of its kind” has strongly reinforced the conclusions of the earlier ones we talked about in that blog.

The analysis of 343 studies by a multinational group of experts, led by Newcastle University and published in the current British Journal of Nutrition, concluded that organic crops and the foods made from them are up to 60 percent higher in key antioxidants than those that are conventionally grown.

“Based on the findings of this study, if an individual were to switch from a conventional to an organic diet, they could have a 20-40 percent increase in antioxidants without a simultaneous increase in calorie intake,” was how it was summed up by Dr. Jessica Shade, Director of Science Programs for The Organic Center based in Washington, D.C.

“In other words, for the same amount of food, eating organic delivers a significantly higher dietary intake of healthy antioxidants.’

What the Newcastle researchers discovered “strongly support the existence of health benefits stemming from consumption of plant-based organic food and beverages,” noted one of the study’s authors, Professor Charles Benbrook, a research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University

Lead author Carlo Leifert said the new study represents “an important addition to the information currently available to consumers which until now has been confusing and in many cases is conflicting.”

Co-author Dr. Gavin Stewart added that this time, the availability of a much larger “evidence base” allowed for better statistical methods to be used in drawing conclusions.

But the results of the latest analysis weren’t just limited to the further corroboration of organic’s nutritional value. It also found that conventional fruits, vegetables and cereals were four times likelier to contain residues of toxic pesticides than organic ones, which contained nearly 50 percent less cadmium, a highly toxic metal that accumulates in the body and can result in such problems as kidney failure, liver damage and skeletal softening.

Findings like that are a reminder of the main reasons for organic’s increased popularity with consumers – factors that those Stanford doctors and the media somehow overlooked when they tried to make it appear that the advantages of buying organic were negligible or illusory.

The fact is that the consumers who are increasingly switching to organic products or regularly purchasing them are doing so because it’s the one way they can feel they’re protecting themselves and their families from ingesting toxic chemicals – whether in the form of pesticides, contaminants in soil or sewage sludge (which is often used in conventional farming), or a whole host of harmful additives that are regularly used in the manufacturing of processed foods.

Additionally, many are choosing organic because of concerns about the environment – for example, the cumulative effects that pesticides and nitrogen-based fertilizers have on the soil, air and water, the threat toxic chemicals pose to endangered honey bees and pollinators, and of their likely role in climate change. Organic consumers can also sleep better at night, knowing that the products they’re buying aren’t responsible for poisoning agriculture workers here and abroad, as many conventional crops now do thanks to massive applications of neurotoxic and carcinogenic pesticides and herbicides.

So you might say that this additional confirmation that such products are also more nutritious – or, put another way, more like the foods that people used to eat before modern agricultural practices robbed the soil of nutrients and replaced them with poisons –is simply the extra-healthy icing on our organic cake.