By Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, RH(AHG)
Huntington College of Health Sciences
Every so often, I hear or read some version of the following statement: “There is no evidence that organic foods are any better for you than conventional, non-organic foods.” This is, to say the least, a woefully uninformed position to take. The fact is, there is a significant body of research showing that the opposite is true—and I’m going to summarize some of that research in this blog with a short discussion of three systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the scientific literature.
Antioxidants and Cadmium Content of Crops/crop-based Foods
In a meta-analysis1 of 343 peer-reviewed studies, researchers shared data indicating that there is a statistically significant and meaningful difference in composition between organic and non-organic crops/crop-based foods. Most importantly, the concentrations of a range of antioxidants such as polyphenolics were found to be substantially higher in organic crops/crop-based foods, including:
- Phenolic acids, 19 percent higher
- Flavanones, 69 percent higher
- Stilbenes, 28 percent higher
- Flavones, 26 percent higher
- Flavonols, 50 percent higher
- Anthocyanins, 51 percent higher
Many of these compounds have previously been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including CVD (cardiovascular disease) and neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers, in dietary intervention and epidemiological studies. Additionally, the frequency of occurrence of pesticide residues was found to be four times higher in conventional crops, which also contained significantly higher concentrations of the toxic metal cadmium (cadmium accumulates in the human body, especially in the liver and kidneys, and therefore dietary intake levels should be kept as low as possible).
Fatty Acid Content of Meat
In a meta-analysis2 of 67 peer-reviewed studies, researchers found significant differences in the fatty acid profiles of organic and non-organic meats. Fatty acids were substantially higher in organic meats, including:
- Total polyunsaturated fatty acids, 23 percent higher
- Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, 47 percent higher
In addition, the data also revealed a lower thrombogenicity index (a measure of the tendency for a material in contact with the blood to produce a thrombus, or clot) for organic meat fat, due to lower concentrations of undesirable saturated (linked to an increased risk of CVD) and higher concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids (linked to a decreased risk of CVD) found in organic meat.
Fatty Acid and Other Mutrient Content of Milk
In a meta-analysis3 of 170 peer-reviewed studies, researchers demonstrated that the fatty acid content of organic milk was significantly higher in organic vs. non-organic milk. This includes:
- Total polyunsaturated fatty acids, 7 percent higher
- Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, 56 percent higher
- Alpha-linolenic acid, 69 percent higher
- Very long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA+DPA+DHA), 57 percent higher
- Conjugated linoleic acid, 41 percent higher
In addition, the meta-analysis also showed that organic milk has significantly higher alpha-tocopherol (13 percent) and iron (20 percent).
Other research showing the advantages of organic over non-organic foods is available to review, but for the proposes of this blog I believe the case has been made that organic foods offer some distinct nutritional advantages over non-organic foods. The fact that organic foods are not sprayed with pesticides (and therefore do not contribute toward overall toxic load), are far more environmentally friendly, and have additional advantages as well, will have to be the subject of a future blog post.
1 Barański M, Średnicka-Tober D, Volakakis N. Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. Br J Nutr. 2014;112:794–811.
2 Średnicka-Tober D, Barański M, Seal C. Composition differences between organic and conventional meat: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr. 2016;115(06):994–1011.
3 Średnicka-Tober D, Barański M, Seal CJ. Higher PUFA and n-3 PUFA, conjugated linoleic acid, α-tocopherol and iron, but lower iodine and selenium concentrations in organic milk: a systematic literature review and meta- and redundancy analyses. Br J Nutr. 2016;115(06):1043–1060.
Professor Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, the Provost for Huntington College of Health Sciences, is a nutritionist, herbalist, writer and educator. For more than 37 years he has educated and trained natural product retailers and health care professionals, has researched and formulated natural products for dozens of dietary supplement companies, and has written articles on nutrition, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals and integrative health issues for trade, consumer magazines and peer-reviewed publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.