Thursday, September 27, 2012

Is Organic Food More Nutritious?

A recent study out of Stanford sought to answer the often-asked question of whether or not organic food is more nutritious than their conventional alternatives?

According to the authors of the study:

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. [1]

Those last two bits of information (pesticides and antibiotics) are no small matter and may be hidden by the headlines making the rounds that organic is not more nutritious than conventional foods.  The fiber, vitamin and mineral content of an organic strawberry may be the same as a conventionally grown strawberry but does that mean it’s a healthier option?  If I provided you the choice between two glasses of water one with no poison (pesticide) and the other with just a drop of poison what option would you choose?

And while that watered down drop of poison may not harm you right away if you continued to take a drop each day for twenty years is it possible even likely that overtime you may build up a toxic load that would eventually make you sick?  This may be the strongest argument against consuming conventionally grown and raised food.

And the authors of the study point out that no long-term exposure was measured for this study.  The reason I choose to eat organic and pasture raised foods over conventional and factory farm foods is one of safety and sustainability.  For the sake of furthering this discussion assume that there is no difference in the nutrient content of organic foods and those that are grown or produced conventionally.   Does this mean that the conventional food is just as good for you as the organic food is?   Consider, manufacturers can add vitamins and minerals to Lucky Charms so it matches the nutrient content of whole oatmeal but it’s clearly not a better choice.

So according to the lab analysis there is no difference in nutrient content of organic versus conventional foods but that headline is very misleading.  How can you honestly say that foods that may expose you to more pesticides or antibiotic-resistant bacteria are just as safe or healthy?  The authors did not state that and that’s being overlooked if you just read or watch the headlines.

Children today are increasingly faced with higher levels of toxins in the environment, which has been linked to autism, ADD and allergies. You are what you eat, especially when you’re a child – your food intake literally grows the brain and body. As a mom and an educated consumer, I fully recognize that it’s not possible to eat organic 100-percent of the time, but every small choice we make, especially for our kids, adds up to make a big difference. [2]

-Shazi Visram, founder, CEO and Chief Mom of Happy Family.

You are what you eat is something you have likely heard before and it reminds me of an interview with a mother recalling the nursing of her first child.  While breastfeeding the baby this woman had been consuming quite a bit of onions from her garden and the taste was present in her milk and the baby would not take the milk.  Using this story as an example it’s fair to assume that if livestock are administered hormones or antibiotics it could be present in their by-products (milk, cheese, eggs) as well.

Another point in favor of organic food is one of sustainability.  Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil quality, and healthy soil leads to healthy food.

In terms of the extra cost and value of eating organically, I have always subscribed to the adage “pay now or pay later.”  If you eat nutritious and clean foods you are more likely to have robust health and less need for medical related intervention.   Investing in the long-term health of you and your family is always a winning strategy!

For a more in-depth comparison of organic versus conventional farming methods check out this analysis from the staff at the Mayo Clinic:

There are basically two different models of food production today, and there's growing conflict between them.  This is a step beyond the organic versus conventional argument and it’s a conflict that is at the root of the declining health of our nation.  Read more about this here and one of the pioneers that is showing us a better way of raising and growing our food:

Additional Reading

I briefly hit on the popular and often repeated notion that you are what you eat.   Inherently I believe most of us, especially mothers know this to be true at least with respect to the idea that nutritious food is better for our health.  Consider the following research that I pulled together just from the last week.

Just as women are advised to get plenty of folic acid around the time of conception and throughout early pregnancy, new research suggests another very similar nutrient may one day deserve a spot on the obstetrician’s list of recommendations.
Consuming greater amounts of choline – a nutrient found in eggs and meat – during pregnancy may lower an infant’s vulnerability to stress-related illnesses, such as mental health disturbances, and chronic conditions, like hypertension, later in life:

Working with researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, anthropologists at UC Santa Barbara have found high levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids in the breast milk of economically impoverished Amerindian woman as compared to women in the United States. The study compared breast milk fatty acid composition in U.S. and Tsimane women. The Tsimane live in Amazonian Bolivia, and eat a diet consisting primarily of locally grown staple crops, wild game, and freshwater fish. Samples of Tsimane mothers’ milk contained significantly higher percentages of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which is crucial for infant cognitive and visual development:

The study below shows evidence that a mother’s pre-pregnancy nutrient intake can have profound impact on the health of her child:

Phil Loomis
Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist


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