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CLIF Blog

Aug. 25, 2009
Organic Food: The Great Debate Continues
A few weeks ago media pushed your buttons and mine with this headline “Organic ‘has no health benefits.’“ Why does this irk me so? It’s wildly irresponsible for the media to mislead consumers with a headline based off a study that failed to address the whole story of organic food.

These headlines were a result of a systematic review by the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency (FSA) that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The FSA asked whether “organic foods [are] nutritionally superior to conventional foods.” What they did not ask in the analysis was whether organic foods are better for you than conventional foods.Here's a quote from the FSA:

"Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority."

This review blindly glosses over the need to look at the whole story. Our food choices today affect our health today as well as future generations.Over time, food choices will have an impact on agricultural practices that affect the nutritional quality of our food. In this way nutrition and environmental health are closely linked.

Nutrition, however, is only one aspect of the health benefits of organic food. The primary reason to choose the organic option, when it’s available, is because it’s grown in a way that reduces your exposure to dangerous chemicals.

The nutritional superiority of organic versus conventional is a tough egg to crack because there are many factors beyond the agricultural methods that can affect the nutrient content of your food, including soil health, seasonality, climate variations, and level of ripeness when tested.

The FSA review did not have controls in place to prevent these variables from biasing their conclusions. Additionally, the nutritional markers of the FSA review didn’t even include the nutrients that are likely to be more abundant in organic food—antioxidants, a plant’s nature-made defense system. Other flaws in the review were comparing varietals no longer available in our food supply and omitting the latest research, beyond February 2008, that showed organic to contain higher levels of nutrients.

In addition, the review did not take on pesticides or the environmental impact of different farming practices (a lofty topic) that also have impacts on human health through the effects on our water, air, and soil.

It is a no brainer, especially when it comes to kids and their petite-sized bodies, that reducing consumption of dangerous pesticides and chemical fertilizers are going to have health benefits. The pure fact that you’re not eating poison seems to make this clear to me.

The review did conclude that there isn’t sufficient research on the long-term effects of pesticides on human health, but I don’t intend to gamble with my health or the health of my family while waiting for scientific proof when I have the capability to choose organic food most often.

Now, I’m off to pick up my organic veggie box!
Posted by:
Tara, the RD
Category:
Food Matters
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We like getting our heart rates up, taking a big breath of fresh air, savoring delicious food. But we also love telling stories and here's where we type 'em up. (BTW, it works both ways; leave a comment—please and thank you.)

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