Organic Food health benefit, is the cost worth the possible benefits?
November 20 2016 by
Ray Sahelian, M.D.

Organic means food is grown without bug killer, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics or biotechnology. Organic food is a growing market sector. Despite the fact that there are no official claims of better quality, consumers perceive organic foods as being more nutritious, more environmentally friendly, healthier and better tasting than conventional foods.
   Are organic foods healthier than non organic foods? It would appear that they are although no long term human studies are available to confirm our educated guess. Organic foods may have a higher content of beneficial substances, such as flavonoids, and are less likely to carry pesticides and toxins.

Benefit of organic foods versus conventionally raised produce
Free range chickens, eggs
Poult Sci. 2016. Transfer of bioactive compounds from pasture to meat in organic free-range chickens. The aim of this study was to analyze the transfer of bioactive compounds from the pasture to the body and meat of organic free-range chickens and to verify the effect of these compounds on the oxidative processes of the meat. Starting at 21 d of age, 100 male naked-neck birds were divided into two homogeneous groups: an indoor group (0.12 m2/bird) and an outdoor group (0.12 m2/bird indoor and 10 m2/bird of forage paddock). At slaughter (81 d of age), blood samples were collected, and the carcasses were stored for 24 h at 4įC (20 birds/group). The grass samples had higher values of carotenoids, tocopherols, and flavonoids respect to standard feed (based on dry matter comparison). The polyunsaturated fatty acid ( PUFA: ) content was also greater in grass, especially the n-3 series (so named because its first double bond occurs after the third carbon atom counting from the methyl at the end of the molecule). The antioxidant profile of the grass improved the antioxidant status of the crop and gizzard contents in the outdoor chickens. The higher antioxidant intake resulted in a higher plasma concentration of antioxidants in outdoor birds; thiobarbituric acid reactive substances ( TBARS: ) and the antioxidant capacity of the plasma were also better in the outdoor than the indoor group. The meat of the outdoor birds had higher levels of antioxidants, mainly due to the higher amount of tocopherols and tocotrienols. Despite the higher antioxidant protection in the drumstick of the outdoor group, the TBARs value was greater, probably due to the kinetic activity of birds, the higher percentage of PUFAs, and the peroxidability index. In conclusion, grazing improved the nutritional value of the meat (PUFA n-3 and the ratio between n-6 and n-3 PUFA) with a minor negative effect on the oxidative stability. Suitable strategies to reduce such negative effects (e.g., reduction of kinetic activity in the last days of rearing) should be studied.

Milk, dairy products
Outdoor-reared, grass-fed animals produce milk and meat that is consistently higher in desirable fatty acids such as the omega-3s, and lower in fatty acids that can promote heart disease and other chronic diseases.

Organic products provide higher levels of beneficial fatty acids, certain essential minerals and antioxidants. For example, compared with conventional products, both organic milk and meat offer about 50 percent more healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Organic milk also provides 40 percent more conjugated linoleic acid. Organic milk also has slightly higher concentrations of iron, vitamin E and some carotenoids,

Organic produce and grains contain more protective antioxidants, less pesticide residue and lower levels of the toxic metal cadmium than food raised in traditional ways. Important plant compounds that have multiple beneficial effects, such as flavanones, flavonols and anthocyanins, are found significantly higher in organic produce.  Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., research professor, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University, Puyallup; Carl Winter, Ph.D., vice chair, Department of food science and technology, University of California, Davis; Samir Samman, Ph.D., head, department of human nutrition, University of Otago, New Zealand; July 14, 2014, British Journal of Nutrition.

Ann Intern Med. 2012. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: a systematic review. 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.

Benefit of organic foods disputed, 2009
Investigators from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reviewed 162 studies published in the scientific literature over the last 50 years. They claim they found there was no significant difference in health benefit from consuming organic foods. Alan Dangour, one of the report's authors, said "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, our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority."
   Comments: I am not sure if the researchers considered the difference in content of pesticides and toxins in non-organically grown food and my impression is that they did not compare the flavonoids and carotenoid content as well as they should.

A different view, 2009
Denis Lairon of the University of Aix Marseille in France has a different opinion. His review of data compiled for the French food agency AFSSA shows organic plant products contain more dry matter and minerals, including iron and magnesium, and more antioxidant polyphenols and salicylic acid. He also reporsts that almost all organic food does not contain pesticide residues, while organic vegetables contain mcuh lower nitrate levels than conventionally produced foods. Lairon, D. "Nutritional quality an safety of organic food, a review." Agronomy for Sustainable Development (2009) DOI.

Consumers and their decisions in purchasing
There have been many studies regarding what influences consumers in their decisions to purchase or consume organic foods. These show a discrepancy between attitudes and behavior with people being positive about organic foods but often not purchasing them. This discrepancy seems to be explained by the fact that some consumers do not consider "organically produced" to be an important purchase criterion, that organic foods are not perceived to surpass conventional foods regarding taste and shelf life (two qualities rated to be of great importance), and because of the perceived premium prices of organic foods at organic health food stores. The high prices of organic foods is often the major deterrent specially for those on fixed budgets. Availability and distribution of organic foods is are other major reasons why consumers have not increased their use of organic produce. However, this is gradually changing, and even major outlets such as Wal-Mart are beginning to realize the potential of organic foods.
     In addition, there is a gradual increase in the number of organic food restaurants cropping up across major cities in the USA.

Organic produce healthier?
Organic vegetables and fruits are most likely healthier for you. For instance, two flavonoids - quercetin and kaempferol - are found in higher amounts in organic tomatoes. However there is a dispute in the scientific community on this matter. In September of 2007, The Institute of Food Technologists updated its Scientific Status Summary on organic foods. They say, "While many studies demonstrate . . . qualitative differences between organic and conventional foods, it is premature to conclude that either food system is superior to the other with respect to safety or
nutritional composition. Pesticide residues, naturally occurring toxins, nitrates, and polyphenolic compounds exert their health risks or benefits on a dose-related basis, and data do not yet exist to ascertain whether the differences in the levels of such chemicals between organic foods and conventional foods are of biological significance." Organic foods. Journal of Food Science, 2006.
   Comments: I will respectfully disagree that organic foods are not healthier, but I await for more research to be more confident in my opinion.

Can you tell the difference between organic foods and normally grown foods?
Sensory analysis of organically and conventionally grown vegetables and fruits have yielded inconsistent results.
Various confounding production and post-harvest factors can affect taste and other quality aspects of organic and conventional produce. These include the effects of cultivar, fertilization, soils and microclimates, handling, storage and processing. A study examined differences in taste between organic and conventionally grown lettuces, spinach, rocket, mustard greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, using carefully controlled, replicated experimental production systems and consumer tests. No significant differences in overall liking, or for intensity of flavor and bitterness, were found in most vegetables tested.
   Comments: Even though a consumer may not notice a difference in taste in organically grown foods versus conventionally grown foods, this does not mean that the health benefits of organic foods are less.

Even Wal-Mart going organic?
Americaís appetite for organic food is so strong that supply just canít keep up with demand. Organic products still have only a tiny slice, about 2.5 percent, of the nationís food market. But the slice is expanding at a feverish pace. Growth in sales of organic food has been 15 percent to 21 percent each year, compared with 2 percent to 4 percent for total food sales. Mainstream supermarkets, eyeing the success of organic retailers such as Whole Foods, have rushed to meet demand. The Kroger Co., Safeway Inc. and SuperValu Inc., which owns Albertsonís LLC, are among those selling their own organic brands. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it would double its organic offerings.
     Wal-Mart Stores Inc. wants to be the mass-market provider of organic food, and plans to double its organic offerings. The retailer has no intention of becoming an organic food store, but wants to make organic food accessible to all. Wal-Mart said in March, 2006 that they are planning to double their SKU (stock keeping unit) count. The move comes as Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, is bringing in more upscale merchandise in the hope of getting shoppers to buy more than just the basics. Wal-Mart is the top U.S. grocery seller and also number one in organic milk sales. It carries organic baby food, juice, produce and pasta sauce, but will be expanding its offerings to include products ranging from pickles to macaroni and cheese.

Organic Farming and Agriculture
A potential advantage of organic farming in producing healthy foods is based on higher concentrations of beneficial secondary plant substances in organically grown crops compared to non organically grown crops. However, with some foods it may not make too much of a difference if it is grown organically or non organically. For instance, is organic coffee better than coffee grown by regular means? I don't know. On the other hand, organic meat or beef seems particularly healthier than meat from cattle grown on non organic pastures.

Animals Fed Organic Food
Animal feeding experiments indicate that animal health and reproductive performance are slightly improved when they are organically fed.

Organic gardening
Using organic fertilizer while organic farming is gradually becoming more widespread, but it is not widespread enough at this time.

My family practices organic living. Would you recommend a baby to have organic baby food?
   I think it is a good idea to minimize the exposure of babies to foods that have pesticides and toxins, hence organically grown baby food is a great option.

Dietary supplements
I have been reading in a plenty number of news articles and serious medical articles, that there are two types of supplement vitamins; the SYNTHETIC and THE ORGANIC (NATURALS FROM FOOD). According to those articles, the supplements ARE NOT the same, since the SYNTHETIC VITAMINS do not provide proper nutrition as the ORGANIC does. These articles argument that SYNTHETIC are isolated substances rather that complete natural vitamins and also are petroleum and rock derivatives, which are not intended for nutrition exclusively, this means that those substances are also used in chemical home products like wood cleaners, laquers, nail polishes, floor cleaners and many others.....thing that is very concerning.
   There are many supplements such as CoQ10, alpha lipoic acid, acetyl l carnitine and many others that are made synthetically and are exactly what the body uses, so there is no reason or need to define them as synthetic or organic. There are other supplements, such as vitamin C, that can come purely as ascorbic acid (which is quite a healthy thing to take and is a powerful antioxidant) or combined with bioflavonoids (which also are great antioxidants). Vitamin E is another example where natural complex which has alpha, delta, gamma tocopherols are superior to dl-alpha tocopherol which is synthetic. Generalizations are not helpful in this area. Each nutrient, substance, vitamin, supplement, etc. has to be evaluated on its own. It's not as black and white as one would naturally assume.