Is Organic Food Healthier Than Conventional Food?

Everyone thinks organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown food. But is it really?

Credit: iStock / melhi

Organic foods may not be 100 percent pesticide-free

Organic foods are often touted as being healthier and tastier than conventional foods, but is this actually true?

A recent scientific review looked at over 200 studies comparing conventional food to organic with the researchers concluding:

“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.”

This paper caused quite a stir in the fitness and health blogosphere. Many organic proponents were quick to attack the study while scientific types defended it.

It does seem to fly in the face of the widespread assumption that organic food is better for you. But the researchers admit their study had limitations and there may be some organic farming practices that could produce food of higher nutritional quality.

Benefits of Organic Food

While on one hand the paper seems to be a knock against higher-priced organic foods, some clear benefits are also shown to eating organically grown foods.

The paper noted that organic produce had a 30 percent lower risk of pesticide contamination than conventional produce though organic foods may not necessarily be 100 percent pesticide-free. However, both types of food were below the allowable safety limits for pesticides. In addition, organic chicken and pork reduced the exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

What the study doesn’t address is what are the risks of long-term pesticide exposure and at what levels? Pregnant women and young children in particular may be susceptible to negative effectives of such exposure.

What Should You Eat – Organic or Conventional?

Organic food does cost more in general so is it worth it?

As with many issues in fitness and health, I’d say it depends.

First, let’s be clear that a conventionally grown apple is still more nutritious that an organic Twinkie (I’m not sure if they’ve produced one yet but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do someday). What I mean is that all those organic chips and cookies don’t really count as health food. Organic packaged food is fine on occasion but most of your diet should consist of real foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meats and healthy fats.

If food cost is an important factor for you, I’d recommend you still get plenty of conventional fruits and vegetables in your daily diet and wash them thoroughly before eating.

You can also download the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce to find out which fruits and veggies are the highest in pesticide exposure.

I think buying local, even if it’s not organic, is the best option for better tasting and fresh food. Check out the local Vancouver Farmer’s Markets or see what your local grocery store has that’s in-season and local.

If you eat meat I’d recommend finding a good butcher and get meat that’s growth-hormone and antibiotic-free. We get most of our meat from Windsor Meats on Main St. (Note to foodies; try the PEI potato-fed steaks. Best. Steaks. Ever.) And look for wild fish as opposed to farm-raised.

Extra Credit

Best-selling author and food writer Michael Pollan wrote a fantastic piece on organic food in 2001 for the New York Times. It’s long but worth a read if you’d like to know more about organic farming and food production.