Is organic food really more nutritious?

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

The overall body of science does not support the view that organic
food is more nutritious than conventionally grown food, says a new
review from the British Nutrition Foundation.

The review, published in the journal Nutrition Bulletin​ and authored by the BNF's Claire Williamson, could re-ignite the debate between conventional and organic fruit that has raged with claim and counter-claim from both sides. "Organic farming represents a sustainable method of agriculture that avoids the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides and makes use of crop rotation and good animal husbandry to control pests and diseases,"​ wrote Williamson. "From a nutritional perspective, there is currently not enough evidence to recommend organic foods over conventionally produced foods."​ According to a study published recently in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture​, the world market for certified organic foods was estimated at $23-25 bn (€17.3-18.8 bn) in 2003 with annual growth of about 19 per cent. According to Williamson: "There appears to be a perception among many consumers that organic foods are more nutritious and therefore healthier than conventionally produced foods. However, to date there are limited data to support this view."​ Indeed, in a review of the data she found no overall differences in nutritional profiles for food grown conventionally or organically. However, exceptions to the rule were found, she added. There exists "moderately strong and consistent"​ data to show that organic potatoes were richer sources of vitamin C than their conventionally grown counterparts. "Also, 50 per cent of studies analysing vegetables found higher levels of vitamin C in organically produced vegetables (particularly leafy vegetables), while no studies have shown lower levels of vitamin C in organic potatoes or vegetables,"​ wrote Williamson. For the dairy industry, Williamson quotes several studies that reported improved nutrient levels for alpha-linolenic acid (ALNA), conjugated linoleic acid, alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), beta-carotene, and/or a higher proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) to monounsaturated fatty acids in the organically produced dairy. "Although these findings regarding organic milk are interesting, there have been no reports of differences in many other nutrients found in milk, such as calcium, zinc, vitamin B2 or vitamin B12,"​ said Williamson. "Milk and dairy foods are considered to be an important source of calcium and vitamins B2 and B12, whereas they are not a major source of ALNA, vitamin E or beta-carotene, which are found in a variety of other foods." ​ Despite the insufficient data on the subjects, Williamson noted that nutrition is not seen as a major reason why people consume organic food. Concerns about the environment, pesticide levels, food additives or animal welfare are listed as more important factors by many consumers. "Much more research is still needed, particularly to determine whether there are any nutritional differences between organic and non-organic fish, meat and other animal products,"​ concluded Williamson. "More research is also required in the area of phytochemicals, such as flavonoids and carotenoids (if the potential health benefits are found to be evident)." ​ Source: Nutrition Bulletin​ June 2007, Volume 32, Issue 2, Pages 104-108 "Is organic food better for our health?" ​Author: C.S. Williamson

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