News Report: Organic food no healthier, but is that all that matters…

You’ve probably already seen the news story reporting researchers’ findings that organic food has little to no nutritional or health value over good old-fashioned give-me-all-the-pesticides-you-can-take food.  Even still, armed with that knowledge, my eating habits won’t change much since about the only organic food I eat on a regular basis is the slightly more expensive cold cereal that I buy just ’cause it tastes better.  When I’m home, I eat whatever my beautiful wife makes, and since she’s so super practical that it pains her almost to buy even the more expensive organic cold cereal I like, and she does most of the grocery shopping, we just don’t do too much organic at our house.

As for the scientific study, the research team reviewed 50 years of research comparing different nutrient levels in plant and animal foods produced by organic and non-organic farming.  The researchers concluded:

A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance….[T]here is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority.

Though I don’t buy a lot of organic food, my brain still works well enough to know that this kind of report will certainly get organic food proponents fired up since surely there is more to the organic food market than just nutritional values.  I guess I haven’t really looked into it much, but I’m just wondering if I’m missing out or making a big mistake by not making a more serious examination of the other benefits of an organic food diet  in terms of taste, environmental effects, and other feel-good factors.

If anyone wishes to educate me or point others to additional resources on the subject of organic food benefits, feel free to leave a comment.  Maybe you can persuade me, or maybe I’ll just feel smug knowing I didn’t give into the organic food craze when I didn’t have any money during law school. 

10 comments

  1. Hi Brian, I just had this convo with my cousin yesterday. You are right in questioning whether or not you are missing the bigger picture. While there may be equal amounts of nutrition, I do not think they have examined how the body processes those foods. . And although I have not read all those studies, I think that the pesticides and other chemicals used to grow “conventionally” grown fruits and vegetables probably inhibit some of the absorption of those nutrients. So while external of the body, the foods may have the same level of nutrients, when taken into the body, there is a likely chance that you would not absorb those nutrients wholy. If you do not think that the chemicals inhibit nutrition absorption, that’s fine because it is my personal speculation. I do not have hard scientific evidence to prove that. But purchasing organic food should be a consideration in general because studies that have shown that the pesticides and other chemicals in non-organic food have been shown to have harmful effects on the body. Carcinogenic even. And let’s not even start on the environmental effects. Hope that made sense! 🙂

    1. Lisa ~ You bring up an interesting point to look into: whether the nutrient absorption rates differ between organic and conventionally grown produce. The one thing I’ve always wondered about studies that say pesticides or chemicals have harmful effects on the body is if they were so harmful why aren’t more people affected? Maybe we are and just don’t realize it. I’m a bit of a skeptic, but I may be persuaded by additional knowledge. Thanks!

  2. I’m not an organic food extremist, but do believe there are a ton of benefits to buying and consuming local and organic produce. Lisa made a few of the critical points about the effect of chemicals used on us over time…also, the environmental impacts of conventional vs. organic farming are an important consideration. Conventional farming is done in a way that can be permanently damaging to the land used, and can have a really negative impact on the surrounding ecosystems because of all the chemicals associated with manufactured produce. Here are a couple of books that got me interested in the topic of mindful food purchasing: Harvest for Hope by Jane Goodall (sometimes a bit flowery and extreme) and The Great American Detox Diet by Alex Jamieson.

    1. Beginning yogi ~ thanks for the book suggestions! I took a look at the Jamieson book on Amazon and will have to examine it closer when I get back to the States. Buying local always made sense to me. Why buy stuff shipped from across the country when you can either grow it yourself or at the local farmers market. I’m sure a lot of it just comes down to educating oneself and learning how to shop at the right places. As far as the environment goes, I unfortunately sort of succumb to the fatalist attitude that what difference would it make if I spend the extra money for organic while 98% of everybody else buys conventionally grown products. Even if I don’t buy it, they’re still going to grow it.

      1. Totally agree Brian – I know it’s not really feasible for you to grow your own stuff in your current environment :), but when you get home you should give it a try! I have a pretty small apartment balcony, but it’s still enough room to have a garden: lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, peppers. it’s fun. Plus farmers markets are great if you have a good one close by. I have taken on a similar view of what real impact I can have on the environment, but you never know…I’ve seen a couple of local take out places switch from styrofoam to recycled containers because patrons like me asked for them! small changes can add up if enough people make them…

      2. beginning yogi ~ sometimes I also forget that a positive attitude can go a long way toward bringing about positive change. You’re right, if more and more people do just a little bit, it can add up.

  3. Hi Brian,
    I find it hard to go 100% organic, sustainable, locally-grown, vegetarian… but believe in taking small steps – for me and my family’s health, the “feel-good factor” and hopefully to make a little bit of an impact. Certain foods such as dairy I only buy organic (to avoid hormones, pesticides, chemicals, etc.) and pick up most of my fruits and veggies + eggs and bread at the farmer’s market. I also read labels carefully and will not eat anything with High Fructose Corn syrup, GMOs or other scary ingredients. The impact on our current eating habits in the US needs to change and like the BeginningYogi says “small changes can add up if enough people make them.” Be it buying a few more organic items, shopping for locally-grown foods, bringing your own shopping bags to the store, being vegetarian one day every week, growing your own veggies, avoiding pre-packaged food, not stopping at the drive-through …. These steps will also help our children make educated choices!

  4. Lately I have come to feel that what really saps the nutritional value and flavor of my food is refrigeration. The vegetables I buy in the supermarkets, whether organic or conventional, have undergone so much refrigeration that they are barely there! On the other hand, when we buy fruits and vegetables in India (where my family lives) where “organic” is not yet a huge trend , they are so much fresher because they are from local shopkeepers who do not have access to industrial refrigeration methods.

    So, from my purely anecdotal evidence, I have concluded that the best thing I can do is buy as far as possible from local farmer’s markets (most of them pluck the fruits and veggies on the day of the market.)

  5. Taste man. I know that organically grown meat tastes better. Organic tomatoes taste better than regular tomatoes, organic lettuce tastes better than regular lettuce, organic milk tastes better than that bs they call milk.
    It just plain tastes better. I don’t need any scientist to tell me what is good and what is bad. Personal preference/taste tells me what is good for me. Its all about intuition, and trusting your gut (pun intended).
    And sure it makes me feel better that I buy organic, and if I cant feel good then life is not worth living.

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