Organic Food Is Not Better For You

Organic Food Is Not Better For You

There’s plenty to like about organic food: it usually tastes better and it lowers your exposure to pesticides. However, if you think it’s actually better for you in a strict nutritional sense, you’re wrong. A new scientific study reminds us of what common sense already tells us: in terms of nutritional composition, there is no difference between “organic” food and the common-and-not-your garden stuff.

Picture by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

A meta-analysis of 240 studies examining organic food published in the Annals Of Internal Medicine found that there were no notable differences identified between organic and “conventional” foods when it came to nutritional benefits or health risks. “There isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health,” co-author Dena Bravata noted. The paper itself makes the point regarding nutrition more explicitly:

Despite the widespread perception that organically produced foods are more nutritious than conventional alternatives, we did not find robust evidence to support this perception.

If you’re committed to organic food, the study doesn’t provide any reason to stop buying it (assuming you can afford it). Just remember to check the provenance carefully; the word “organic” alone isn’t a guarantee.

Annals of Internal Medicine [subscription site]


  • @angus: a good heads-up, confirming what people who’ve followed the literature have known for some years.

    The ‘common sense’ invocation doesn’t do much, though. ‘Common sense’, if anything worth the term’s use exists at all, is an evolutionary faculty for dealing with stuff we found on the African savannah: basic life-maintenance, negotiation of a small-scale social sphere, etc. It equips us for nothing else, certainly not evaluation of the results of different agricultural techniques.

    Nearly every time ‘common sense’ is invoked, it’s a smoke-screen for laziness: “I just know what I know”.

    That’s not how you’re using it (you’re doing us a service by pointing out something interesting and informative); but it does no work. Might as well drop it.

  • But this is false reporting of a full study.

    Reported here the same way, but also included this tidbit: “However, organic goods had far lower pesticide residue levels and consuming organic chicken and pork appeared to cut exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

    Which proves the reason many, if not most, people get into organic products in the first place.

    • Reading the abstract or paper (unfortunately behind a paywall) would make more sense than relying on one of Rupert’s withered old organs.

      The abstract suggests some small differences in residue levels, and in the type (but not amount) of bacterial contamination. As far as one can tell from the abstract, it doesn’t suggest any differences are clinically significant. Judgements may differ on that, but it looks like it’s what the paper says, in which case Angus’s report is accurate.

    • +1 on pesticide free. It’s the only reason I consider organic. It’s the reason I grow organically too an the only reason there are blue tongue lizards and rare frogs in my area.

  • I actually think it depends where you buy your foods. There will be some organic providers (usually the one you have to get up at the crack of dawn to go to) that can provide more nutritious quality produce. I know this cause my mum gets them all the time (though she lives in a country like small community where it’s grown locally) I can also totally beleive that other ‘organic’ produce is grown in the same/similar miniral deprived soil other produce is also grown in.

    But, still ‘hopefully’ no GM (which I actually don’t have that much of an issue with) and pesticides.
    Will also depend if they’ve been picked too early and forced to ripen.

    • Got any evidence for these claims. Just because it “feels” better because you have to make a special effort to get organic produce doesn’t mean it is more nutritious. Sorry. The science says that organic food is NOT more nutritious.

    • Do a google search for GMOs and sterility, you’ll find a few things that you might have an issue with

      Please do some research on Monsanto, who’s responsible for a lot of GM foods available.
      There’s a documentary ‘The Future of Food’ on vimeo that covers them, their track record of lying about safety, their unethical business tactics and how they’ve managed to push GM foods globally without proper testing

      • “Do a google search for XXX ” = “waste your time reading crazy stuff from every nutjob on the Internet”. Truly, if you’re serious about finding good sources of evidence on anything, you don’t start with google and vimeo.

        • OK, let’s discount the studies where animals fed GM soy led to organ damage, let’s discount the studies that found rising sterility, they don’t exist, they’re all written by crazy people!
          I’m giving you starting points to go find the evidence for yourself, or do you need a whitepaper to do that as well?

          You know what? You’re right, let’s wait for the ‘experts’ to realize the dangers
          Hell would freeze over sooner than that.

          • Google and random web videos are indiscriminate starting points, like picking books off a shelf by rolling dice. Try googling for flat earth and fake moon landing, and see if they prove to be useful starting points on the nature of our solar system.

          • One is not like the other

            Go do your research on Monsanto and GMOs, and you can tell me in 3 months time that what I posted today was actually correct.

          • I have an open mind on GM. I don’t trust any corporation (who are by definition valueless money-grubbers). I don’t trust anti-GM activists (who tend to be hysterical antiscientific luddites). I’m not convinced so far that enough due diligence has been done to use GM on a large scale, but neither do I think GM research should be shut down. Discovery can be a marvellous thing; GM might be just that.

            One think that I am convinced of, is that it’s one of our smallest concerns. We can be pretty confident that we are going to face: massive destruction of our ecosystems due to global warming and almost certain nuclear war due to nuclear proliferation amongst unstable states. Those two alone are threats to our entire civilisation (if that is what we have). Getting knickers in a twist about research that may, or may not, have minor health ramifications is blinkered and neurotic.

          • GM research is fine as long if it is done responsibly, but that is not the case.
            Monsanto needs to be held accountable, but the main problem is nobody knows what a Monsanto is, and nobody cares until the media tells them to care.

            Sterility isn’t a minor health ramification when you consider how much of the population is now eating some form of GM product. We have no idea of the long term effects of GM consumption, any studies that find detrimental effects from GM consumption should be taken seriously.

            If you really have an open mind, watch the docu I recommended and you’ll see I’m probably understating how dangerous reckless GM research is.

          • Do you have anything insightful to contribute or did they only teach you to label things you don’t understand

  • Discussed this at length with the Organophiles I know this morning – none of them were chosing Organic food for nutritional reasons. It was all to reduce/remove the added chemicals from pesticides and fertilizers. What they’re telling me (and unfortunately I have nothing to back this up) is that some of these are not able to be processed by the body in full and build up in areas like the liver and fat cells. They don’t know what the outcome of the buildup is but they believe it is unlikely to be good and so avoid non-organic foods and products.

    • One of the most important reasons to choose organic has also been the farmers’ land, and in particular soil, management. Corporate agriculture has played pretty fast and loose with this extremely important resource (not to mention urban sprawl chewing up ever-increasing proportions of our tiny areas of good soil, but that’s another story …)

      This may be becoming less important as no-till and similar techniques take hold among the corporates.

  • I would be very skeptical of the true funding behind such research. Monsanto and other unsavory organisations have all been involved with huge funding to push certain messages about food.

    • In most Western countries, funding interests behind research are disclosed. All you need to do is look, and then make an assessment.

      The trouble with ‘funding’ conspiracy theories is that they can be applied willy-nilly. If you just trash all serious research, what’s left? Intuition, superstition .. the Dark Ages. So, sure, be suspicious of research funded by organisations you distrust. But don’t make such accusations before checking them …

  • I wasn’t aware that people thought organic food was more nutritious! I thought the benefit was that it’s more ecologically sustainable, ethical, etc. Same end, different means.

  • Lol. Organic doesn’t mean a change in chemical composition of the food so no of coarse its not more nutritious… Organic just means your lowering your risk of a pesticide potentially having some random almost impossible carcinogenic effect… Wash your fruit and veg, scrub them if you want. Cooking them is even better if you are really concerned. I buy organic sometimes simply because it tastes better but majority of the time it is NOT worth the price.

    Fluoride is necessary in the water supply on a LARGE scale. So many more people would have dental problems if we did not have it in the water supply. They have strict control measures of how much Fluoride is dosed into the water supply. You should worry more about things like drinking the correct milk (supporter of a2 milk because it could potentially lower symptoms or prevent diseases. The company is currently undertaking a lot of research for concrete evidence but a2 milk societies have lower incidence of quite a few diseases (check their website)).

    My opinion is based on what I know as a Chemist. I could be wrong but I hope not. STOP USING GOOGLE AND START USING GOOGLE SCHOLAR!!! Listen to Dr Karl, Stuff you should know and Radiolab podcasts if you want some good education!

  • “Organic foods are foods that are produced using methods that do not involve modern synthetic inputs such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Organic foods are not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives”. Reason enough to eat organic regardless of nutritional equality.

  • This a contradiction in terms – how can non-organic food that is contaminated with pesticides and chemical fertilisers be no more harmful than food that isn’t contaminated? There are plenty of studies that show that mass-produced food using chemicals as pesticides and fertilisers is potentially more harmful & less nutritious than food that isn’t exposed to these same chemicals.

    • That’s what ‘clinical significance’ means. The study authors’ claim (from the abstract, anyway), is that there’s no clinical significance to the differences. Whether they’re right or wrong is an empirical matter, to be decided on by measurement. Logic (‘contradiction in terms’) can’t decide empirical matters. The ancient Greeks tried that, and we made little progress in health for a couple of thousand years.

      One lesson from the incredible health gains we’ve made in the last couple of centuries is: the hard yards of real empirical work have to be done to improve anything. You can’t do it in your head, (there were plenty of intelligent heads in the prescientific era, and little progress).

  • I am sorry but I am not seeing the reason here. We eat for either survival or pleasure. We do not eat for ethics unless you are selling a religious concept. Are you?

    • Speak for yourself. I eat organic meat from a known source because if I’m going to have animals raised and killed for my sake, I’d rather they lived lives as good as possible. That’s an eating choice, made on ethical grounds. Nothing to do with religion.

    • Given the choice to eat bacon from a well kept pig or eggs from free range chickens I know by making an ethical choice then I have caused less suffering. Same with veggies, if I choose organic then I know my needs are causing less harmful chemical runoff into the watersheds. Nothing at all to do with religion.

      • That’s the same reason we keep a few hens and ducks – so we know the eggs we eat are from well fed birds who have been looked after. However, if the little cluckers keep squawking and quacking at 3am, they’ll be suffering a short, sharp blow to their precious little necks.

  • Until our physicist understand everything at a quantum level then we are all just really part of one big experiment. Just try and eat as close as possible to nature as we know for sure due to evolution that is the food that we are designed to eat. We will never truly understand the effects of manufactured foods or food with additives until we have a quantum understanding.

    • Not necessarily. Bad farming practices are bad for the environment regardless of whether it’s done “organically” or not. I see orchardists draining aquifers to grow “organic fruit” and other leaching soils of their minerals for similar ends. There is no uniform goodness to a bio/organic label.

        • Not necessarily. Farmers do bad things to their land to substitute for pesticide use. The only safe alternative is to reduce production levels.

          I live in a very rural area. Certification of a primary producer as “organic” usually doesn’t say anything about the state of the land (and pre-existing toxins in soil or water-table) prior to them making the switch. It’s also easy to use pesticides etc without anyone checking.

  • This study proves 2 things.

    1. Soil is nutrient deficient in both organic and conventional farming.

    2. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

  • The level of nutrients may be the same in both cases. I don’t buy organic for that reason. I buy it because organics have reduced pesticides and antibiotics in it. I’m pretty sure that’s the main reason why people buy organics – not for the nutrient content.

  • Er, “no difference” is not actually the conclusion reached Angus. For example, the non-organic foods tested had more pesticides (which is the only reason I would buy organic)

  • yeah.. alas.. for those that just reckon the Organics are better.. just because of the so-called environmental positive.. as someone who has a background in that area.. because of particular ways that organic group make up their ‘rule’ , it is very easy to have negative and bad outcomes environmentally with organics.. especially nitrate leaking as people attempt to put excessive amount of animal matures onto land, or struggle to even replace sufficient nutrient sufficient to balance that taken out by food crops

  • My sister got cancer when she was 21 and the type she got was the same type that farmers get from pesticides in the agricultural areas. You don’t have to believe me, but it was enough to get our family to change to organic for good. We now say, “Pay now or pay later” (in health and $$) Keep fooling yourselves if you want. Cancer is not natural, this widespread prevalence follows the increased use of pesticides.

  • Monsanto (largest patent-holder and manufacturer of GMO seeds) said as late as 2004 that “reliable scientific evidence indicates that Agent Orange is not the cause of serious long-term health effects.” That’s enough to tell me that when they tell us there’s nothing wrong with GMO food, they ‘re not to be trusted. If there’s no difference between GMO and organic, then why have “Monsanto and Dow and DuPont and major food processors like Pepsi and CocaCola … already put up $25 million to defeat GMO labeling in California”?

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