It is hard to work out if organic is actually better for health with the amount of marketing and promotion attached to organic companies. The cost itself can increase over 100% of the cost of the conventional product and if you think with the same mindset as buying a car, more cost more likely means a better product, right? I mean who wouldn’t prefer a BMW or Alpha Romeo compared to a bottom of the line car?
The percentage cost difference between a few conventional and organic products is listed below:
Milk: 50% Carrots 35% Fresh spinach: 70% Salad mix: 125% Strawberries: 75 Rice: 220% So what does the evidence say? Is the cost worth it for the nutritional quality of the produce?
Two meta-analysis and one systematic review (strong forms of study types) reported that organic plant based foods had no consistent results which supported organic was better than conventional plant based foods. When there was a difference it was only slight and suggested:
Conventional plant based foods had higher protein and nitrogen. Organically grown fruit and vegetables had higher levels of phosphorous, vitamin C and phenols (like antioxidants). What about meats, milks, eggs and poultry? Well studies suggest that when there were differences in nutritional value the results favoured organic based products. However, these were at a level that when we eat these meat or alternative sources do not really make any difference to the nutritional value of the food. In other words, if you choose to eat a lean cut of regular meat or egg, you will receive the health benefits which are almost identical to the organic product, without the burn in the price tag. Something else to note is that the season also effects the nutrients available in the milk and also accounts for some changes in the nutrients reported in the results for organic compared to conventional milk products.
Another reason some people choose to buy organic is the fear of consuming pesticides and chemicals associated with conventional produce. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) monitors and sets the standards of acceptable daily intake (ADI) of these pesticides and chemicals to safeguard the health of the population. In the 2008 Australian Total Diet Study FSANZ reported 46 out of the total 214 different types of veterinary or agricultural chemicals were detected in foods. 7 were detected at a level of 10% or more but these levels were still well below the ADI allowance set by FSANZ. The highest exposure reported was in pomegranates which reported a 20% ADI level is you were aged 17 years or older or 60% of the ADI if you were aged 2-5 years.
My recommendation is it is better to eat conventional fruit and vegetables, lean meat or alternative sources than exclude them if they are not organic. These food groups are needed for the health of the body and the benefits of eating conventional produce outweigh the potential negatives.
Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter GE, Bavinger JC, Pearson M, Eschbach PJ, et al. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives? A systematic review. Ann Intern Med. 2012 [cited 2013 May 21];157:348-66. Abstract available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22944875
Brandt K, Leifert C, Sanderson R and Seal CJ. Agroecosystem management and nutritional quality of plant foods: the case of organic fruits and vegetables. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences. 2011 [cited 2013 May 21];30:1-2:177-97. Abstract available from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07352689.2011.554417
Dangour AD, Dodhia SK, Hayter A, Allen E, Lock K, Uauy R. Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 [cited 2013 May 21];90:680-5 Abstract available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19640946
Bourn D, Prescott J. A comparison of the nutritional value, sensory qualities and food safety of organically and conventionally produced foods. Crit Rev Food Sci.Nutr. 2002 [cited 2013 May 21];42(1):1-34. Abstract available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11833635
Kader AA. Fruit maturity, ripening and quality relationships. [cited 2013 May 21]. Available from: http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/datastore/234-167.pdf
Palup E, Jayanegara A, Ploerger A and Kahl J. Comparison of nutritional quality between conventional and organic dairy products: a meta-analysis. J Sci Food Agric. 2012 [cited 2013 May 21];92: 2774-81. Abstract available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22430502
Hermansen J, Badsberg J, Kristensen T, Gunderso V. Major and trace elements in organically or conventionally produced milk. J Dairy Res. 2005 [cited 2013 May 21];72:362-8. Abstract available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16174368
Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter, GE, Bavinger JC, et al. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives? A systematic review. Ann Intern Med 2012 [cited 2013 May 21];157:348-66. Abstract available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22944875
USDA Economic Research Service. Organic prices overview. [cited 2013 May 21]. Available from: http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/organic-prices.aspx