Posted by: Chris Maloney | May 2, 2011

Does Eating Organic Food Really Make a Difference?

golden delicious

Image by spablab via Flickr

Short Answer:  Yes. 

Longer Answer:  It Depends. 

Summary (complete citations at my website):  Ruling out other reasons for eating organic, which also needs to account for eating locally vs. eating organic food flown in from the other side of the world, we need to focus on whether the food is qualitatively different.  Believers on both sides of the aisle will find this a rude question, with both “Of course!” and “Absolutely Not!”  shouted out with equal determination. 

The truth of the matter is that a great many things affect a particular crop of produce and the method of cultivation is only one factor.  So there are years in which buying organic makes an enormous amount of sense and a significant difference in the value of the nutrients you’ve consumed.  There are other years when the crop of a particular vegetable or fruit does poorly.  In that year the difference between conventional and organic becomes less significant. 

Overall, it appears that organic produce does give a significant boost to the level of nutrients per piece of produce.  That difference, between 10 and 20%, needs to be weighed against cost and other factors.  If you buy one organic apple or a bag of conventional apples, the conventional apples win in terms of nutrient intake. 

But the naysayers that claim that organic farming practices do not result in significant nutritional improvements are basing their information on years when other factors negatively affect the ability of the organic produce to hit peak capacity.

 I’ve included two studies below, which show that many years the organic apples (and let’s be honest, golden delicious is one of the easiest targets for conventional to match up) did outperform the conventional apples.  But the researchers selected a year when the two crops were comparable to do their human studies.  They found that the crops didn’t differ in content that year and then published that the humans didn’t differ either.  If the apples didn’t have an increased nutrient content that year, where did the researchers think the organic produce would get the extra boost for the human subjects?  Of course the study was negative.  They needed to compare the apples in the humans in a year when the apples showed a difference to begin with.  Otherwise, the results are misleading at best.   If you look, the same researchers did the variation in nutrient study on the apples and the negative study on the human volunteers.  So they really should have known better. 

Negative Studies:

Eur J Nutr. 2010 Aug;49(5):301-10. Epub 2009 Dec 22.

No effect of the farming system (organic/conventional) on the bioavailability of apple (Malus domestica Bork., cultivar Golden Delicious) polyphenols in healthy men: a comparative study.

Stracke BA, Rüfer CE, Bub A, Seifert S, Weibel FP, Kunz C, Watzl B.

SourceDepartment of Physiology and Biochemistry of Nutrition, Max Rubner-Institute, Federal Research Institute of Nutrition and Food, Haid-und-Neu-Str. 9, 76131, Karlsruhe, Germany.

Abstract

BACKGROUND: The organic food sales have been increasing during the recent years. It has been hypothesised that organically grown fruits are healthier based on their higher content of phytochemicals. However, data on the bioavailability of phytochemicals from organically or conventionally produced plant foods are scarce.

METHODS: Two human intervention studies were performed to compare the bioavailability of polyphenols in healthy men after ingestion of apples from different farming systems. The administered apples were grown organically and conventionally under defined conditions and characterised regarding their polyphenol content and antioxidant capacity. No significant differences in the polyphenol content and the antioxidant capacity from the organic and conventional farming system were observed.

RESULTS: In the short-term intervention study, six men consumed either organically or conventionally produced apples in a randomized cross-over study. After intake of 1 kg apples, phloretin (C (max) 13 + or – 5 nmol/l, t (max) 1.7 + or – 1.2 h) and coumaric acid (C (max )35 + or – 12 nmol/l, t (max) 3.0 + or – 0.8 h) plasma concentrations increased significantly (P < 0.0001) in both intervention groups, without differences between the two farming systems. In the long-term intervention study, 43 healthy volunteers consumed organically or conventionally produced apples (500 g/day; 4 weeks) or no apples in a double-blind, randomized intervention study. In this study, 24 h after the last dosing regime, the apple intake did not result in increasing polyphenol concentrations in plasma and urine compared to the control group suggesting no accumulation of apple polyphenols or degradation products in humans.

CONCLUSION: Our study suggests that the two farming systems (organic/conventional) do not result in differences in the bioavailability of apple polyphenols.

PMID:20033417

J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Jun 10;57(11):4598-605.

Three-year comparison of the polyphenol contents and antioxidant capacities in organically and conventionally produced apples ( Malus domestica Bork. Cultivar ‘Golden Delicious’).

Stracke BA, Rüfer CE, Weibel FP, Bub A, Watzl B.

SourceDepartment of Physiology and Biochemistry of Nutrition, Max Rubner-Institute, Federal Research Institute of Nutrition and Food, Karlsruhe, Germany.

Abstract

The present study was performed to evaluate the polyphenol content and antioxidant capacity of apples (cv. ;Golden Delicious’) grown under defined organic and conventional conditions. Apples were harvested at five comparable commercial farms over the course of three years (2004-2006). In 2005 and 2006 the antioxidant capacity was 15% higher (p < 0.05) in organically produced apples than in conventionally produced fruits. In 2005 significantly higher polyphenol concentrations were found in the organically grown apples. In 2004 and 2006 no significant differences were observed (2004, 304 +/- 68 microg/g organic vs 284 +/- 69 microg/g conventional, p = 0.18; 2005, 302 +/- 58 micro/g organic vs 253 +/- 41 microg/g conventional, p = 0.002; 2006, 402 +/- 100 microg/g organic vs 365 +/- 58 microg/g conventional, p = 0.17). Year-to-year variations in the antioxidant capacity and the polyphenol content of up to 20% were more significant than the production method found within one year. Finally, flavanols and flavonols were major determinants of the antioxidant capacities in these apples. Overall, the production method had a smaller impact on the variation in the polyphenol content and antioxidant capacity of apples than the yearly climate.

PMID:19388640

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Responses

  1. […] Posted by Henry David Thorough One thing this article misses are the political reasons for eating non-industrial food… Short Answer:  Yes.  Longer Answer:  It Depends.  Summary (complete citations at my website):  Ruling out other reasons for eating organic, which also needs to account for eating locally vs. eating organic food flown in from the other side of the world, we need to focus on whether the food is qualitatively different.  Believers on both sides of the aisl … Read More […]

  2. I agree. There are multiple reasons for eating organic food. But I truly am not an expert on the political ramifications, and my patients rely on me for the body specific answers. One day we’ll subsidize fruits and vegetables instead of other less healthy alternatives, but I’m not holding my breath.

  3. […] Does Eating Organic Food Really Make a Difference? […]

  4. […] Does Eating Organic Food Really Make a Difference? […]


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