Is organic food healthier?Published 8:18am Thursday, September 20, 2012
Column: Amy Pleimling, Dietitian Speaks
There has been a lot of press lately about the topic of organic versus conventionally grown foods and which is the healthier choice.
In fact, I was interviewed by a local TV news team last week on this very topic because a recent study was published by researchers from Stanford University in the Annals of Internal Medicine. These researchers found that there is little evidence that organic foods are any healthier than conventionally grown foods. I never saw the clip of my interview, but I am certain it was short and sweet, so I thought I’d expand a bit by writing on the topic.
Let me start by telling what the study found. The study was an analysis of already-published research on the topic. The main conclusion was that the published literature “lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.”
There were other findings, but this conclusion is the one getting the most attention.
So I was asked, “What do I make of this and what is my opinion on the topic?”
I think the first thing to point out here is that there are many reasons why people choose organic foods — because of the natural way they’re grown, the farming practices, benefits to the earth, taste and oftentimes to support local farmers. I actually don’t know that folks choose organic foods because they are “more nutritious.”
When I think of the definition of “nutritious,” what first comes to mind is the amount of nutrients in the product. When one product is “more nutritious” than another, it has more of the good stuff — more vitamins, minerals, whole grains, antioxidants, etc.
That being said, let’s take a look at the definition of organic. Organic foods do not have the following: artificial colors, artificial flavors, artificial preservatives, artificial fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, irradiation or bioengineering.
I am sure you could find the answer fairly quickly to the main reasons why people choose organic foods, but it has to be mainly because of the things they don’t have. I think people choose organic food because of how it is grown and what isn’t there — like pesticides and preservatives, added artificial colors and flavors.
As a dietitian, everything I recommend is research-based. Let’s take the apple for example. At this point we know that apples are good for you; no one debates that really. Whether an apple is organic or conventional, it still has more fiber than a bowl of bran flakes (5 grams) and vitamin C. What we don’t know, because more research is still needed, is if the organic apple is healthier overall for you. So it ends up being a personal decision for you to make. We know that organic produce doesn’t use pesticides — so, yes, you won’t get that exposure if you are choosing an organic apple — but that decision is up to you.
Organically grown food does have benefits, but it has its downfalls as well. In my view, the two biggest downfalls for you as a shopper are. first, the cost and, second, the fact that the foods do go bad faster. The bottom line is — as a shopper — it is your choice.
As a dietitian, I always go back to the basics. Are you eating enough fruits and veggies? Are you eating lean protein and dairy and getting enough whole grains? In my opinion healthy foods that are conventionally grown or raised are just that — healthy. You should practice good food safety in your kitchen and wash your produce very well. But if you choose organic, that’s great and, yes, you are getting what you think you are getting — foods that haven’t been treated with the things conventional methods use.
I never thought organic foods had more vitamins and nutrition in them necessarily, so my opinion of organic hasn’t changed and won’t, because at this point any long-term research isn’t there. The answer, as usual, is not black and white.
The good news is — it’s our decision to make and I’m glad we have the choice!
Amy Pleimling is the dietitian for the Hy-Vee grocery store in Albert Lea.