Latest Studies on Organic
A growing body of research is beginning to show some organic foods are more nutritious than conventional varieties.
Until recently, there simply weren't enough studies done well enough to give us real facts about the nutrition of organic vs. conventional foods. However, there are now more studies being conducted and the methods are growing more advanced. These studies are beginning to suggest there is potential that organic foods may be more nutritious than conventional foods.
Recent Studies Comparing Organic and Conventional Nutritionals
More nutritious fruits and vegetables
A careful study found higher levels of antioxidants in organically grown strawberries compared to conventionally grown strawberries.1
A comprehensive study, published in the journal PLoS One, investigated the difference in fruit and soil quality between organically —and conventionally— produced strawberries and found:
- Higher antioxidant activity and concentrations of ascorbic acid and phenolic compounds in strawberries grown using organic farming methods compared to those grown conventionally.
- The conventionally grown berries had higher levels of phosphorous and potassium, though strawberries are not among the richest sources of either nutrient.
- A difference in the soils, with the organically farmed soils containing higher levels of several important compounds including carbon, nitrogen, and microbes.
A recent study suggests that organic blueberries have higher levels of several nutrients than conventional blueberries.2
A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that organically grown blueberries yielded higher levels of several nutritional compounds compared to those that were conventionally grown including:
- fructose and glucose,
- total phenolics,
- total anthocyannins, and
Emerging research suggests some organic foods are more nutritious than conventionally grown varieties.3
A 2008 report from the Organic Center, the University of Florida and Washington State University compared levels of different nutrients across matched pairs of organically and conventionally grown foods.
- The organic foods were deemed nutritionally superior in 61% of the cases, while the conventional foods were more nutrient dense in 37% (no difference was detected in 2% of the pairs).
- Polyphenol and antioxidant levels were most often found to be higher in organic samples;
- Potassium, phosphorous, and total protein levels were most often found to be higher in conventional foods.
More nutritious milk
Pasture-fed cows naturally produce milk with more omega-3 fatty acids.4, 5
A 2011 comparison study of organic and conventional milk found that organic milk had more beneficial fatty acids than conventional milk, including total polyunsaturated fatty acids, CLA, and ALA (which is an omega-3 fatty acid).
Organic Valley found* its milk has:
- Higher levels of omega-3 (47mg vs. 20mg per 8-ounce serving),
- A better omega-6 to omega-3 ratio (2.4:1 vs. 5.6:1), and
- Higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a "good" fat with suspected positive health benefits (average of 58mg per 8-ounce serving).
* All numbers compare 8 oz. Organic Valley whole milk with 8 oz. natural or conventional milk.
Recent Studies on the Effects of Persistent Pesticide and Antibiotic Use
The average adult who does not eat organic is exposed to between six and twelve pesticides each day from food and beverages.
Pesticides and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Studies suggest exposure to pesticides is linked to health and behavioral problems, including ADHD.6
A 2009 study published in Pediatrics suggests that organophosphate (OP) pesticide exposure may contribute to ADHD in children.
- Those with higher levels were more likely to have ADHD compared to children with lower levels; each 10-fold increase was associated with a 55 to 72 percent increase in the odds of ADHD.
President's Cancer Panel
The 2008-2009 President's Cancer Panel recommends eating food grown without pesticides (as well as chemicals, fertilizers, antibiotics and growth hormones) to help decrease the risk of contracting cancer.7
A central recommendation for individuals from the 2008-2009 President's Cancer Panel report (Title: Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What we can do now) to help reduce exposure to chemicals is to choose food grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and growth hormones.
The 2008-2009 President's Cancer Panel report also strongly encourages parents and child care providers to choose foods and other products that will minimize children's exposure to toxics prior to conception and throughout pregnancy and early life, when risk of damage is greatest.
Organic food is especially good for babies and children who are more vulnerable than adults to the risks of pesticide exposure.
According to the 2008-2009 President's Cancer Panel report, it is critical to recognize that children are far more susceptible to the risks of chemical exposures than adults; their smaller body size and rapid physical development make them more vulnerable to known or suspected carcinogens. Also, children's internal organs are not fully developed, which means their immune systems may not be able to protect against pesticides and their excretory systems may not be able to eliminate toxins effectively.8
Pregnant women or those hoping to become pregnant
Chemicals used in conventional farming are now being found in the umbilical cords of pregnant women.9
Some chemicals used in conventional agriculture can cross the umbilical cord and, therefore, pose health risks to a developing fetus. This means that unborn children can be "pre-polluted" with chemicals. In 2009, testing from the nonprofit Environmental Working Group detected a remarkable 232 chemicals from a variety of environmental exposures, including agricultural, in the umbilical cords of 10 babies.
Pesticides and Slowed brain development and Lower I.Q.
Studies are now finding a link between pesticide exposure and lower I.Q. scores. 10, 11, 12
A series of studies published in 2011 in Environmental Health Perspectives shows a link between prenatal exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides (commonly sprayed on conventionally grown fruits and vegetables), as well as used in many insecticides used to control pests) and lower I.Q. scores.
- Babies who were exposed to the higher levels of pesticides in the womb had lower I.Q. scores when they reached school age (compared to children with lower levels of exposure).
- The reported drop in I.Q. scores shown in these studies has been identified as being similar to the drops shown in early lead research, which led to its removal from gasoline, paints, and other consumer products.
Organic and Reducing Pesticide Exposure
An original scientific study shows you can immediately and dramatically reduce the pesticide content in your child's body by switching to organic foods.13
Research from a team at the University of Washington compared children after being fed a conventional diet and an organic diet. OP insecticide metabolites were detected for all of the children following the conventional diet, but were below the levels for detection following the organic diet. This research suggests you can immediately and dramatically reduce the pesticide content in a child's body by switching to organic foods.
Antibiotic resistant bacteria
Recent research suggests that the use of antibiotics on a farm can lead to an increase in drug-resistant bacteria in our food.14
A 2010 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that transitioning from conventional to organic practices on a poultry farm, and the resultant voluntary removal of antibiotics is associated with a lower prevalence of the common antibiotic-resistant and multi-drug resistant bacteria which can be a source of foodborne illness if ingested by humans.
Increases in the use of antibiotics in conventional poultry farming practices have led to the amplification of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in poultry.14
- Reganold JP, Andrews PK, Reeve JR, Carpenter-Boggs L, Schadt CW, et al. (2010) Fruit and Soil Quality of Organic and Conventional Strawberry Agroecosystems. PLoS ONE 5(9): e12346. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012346
- Wang, S. Y., Chen, C. T., Sciarappa, W., Wang, C. Y., & Camp, M. J.,(2008). Fruit quality, antioxidant capacity, and flavonoid content of organically and conventionally grown Blueberries. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 56 (14), 5788–5794. Available on-line at: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/jf703775r
- Benbrook CM, Zhao X, Yanez J, Davies N, and Andrews P. New evidence confirms the nutritional superiority of plant-based organic foods. The Organic Center Report. March 2008. Available at: http://www.organic-center.org/reportfiles/NutrientContentReport.pdf/.
- Butler G et al., Fat compostion of organic and conventional retail milk in northeast England. Journal of Dairy Science. 201 94:24-36.
- Organic Valley. All milk is not the same…and we can prove it. Available at: http://www.organicvalley.coop/products/milk/nutrition/. Accessed on July 2, 2012.
- Bouchard MF, Bellinger DC, Wright RO, Weisskopf MG. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and urinary metabolites of organophospahte pesticides. Pediatrics. 2010;125e1270-1277. Available at: http://www.stonyfield.com/sites/default/files/pdf/the_link_between_pesticide_exposure_and_adhd.pdf. Accessed on: March 16, 2012.
- President's Cancer Panel. Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What we can do now. Annual Report 2008-2009. Full report available at: http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/annualReports/pcp08-09rpt/PCP_Report_08- 09_508.pdf. Quick link to recommendations from the report available at: http://www.stonyfield.com/sites/default/files/attachments/presidents_cancer_panel_findings.pdf. Accessed on: March 16, 2011.
- Washington State Department of Family and Child Health. Reducing pesticide exposure in children and pregnant women. Fall/Winter 2006. Available at: http://depts.washington.edu/nwbfch/PDFs/NWBv21n1.pdf. Accessed on: March 15, 2012.
- Hirshberg G, Benbrook C, and Lundgren B. (201). Label it now: what you need to know about genetically engineered foods. New Word City, Inc.
- Bouchard MF, et al. Prenatal exposure to Organophosphate pesticides and IQ in 7-year old children. Environmental Health Perspectives. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1003185 (available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1003185) Online 21 April 2011.
- Engel SM, et al. Prenatal exposure to Organophosphates, Paraoxonase 1, and cognitive development in childhood. Environmental Health Perspectives.
doi: 10.1289/ehp.1003183 (available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1003183) Online 21 April 2011.
- Rauh V, et al. 7 year neurodevelopmental scores and prenatal exposure to Chlorpyrifos, a common agricultural pesticide. Environmental Health Perspectives. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1003160 (available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1003160) Online 21 April 2011.
- Lu C, Toepel RI, Fenske R, Barr D, Bravo R. Organic diets significantly lower childrens' dietary exposure to Organophosphorous Pesticides. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2006 Feb;114(2):260-3.
- Sapkota AR, et al. Lower prevalence of antibiotic-resistant Enterococci on US conventional poultry farms that transitioned to organic practices. Environmental Health Perspectives. http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1003350. Online 10 August 2011.