New Study Shows Organic is More Nutritious

Farming methods influence the nutritional content of food

If you ever wondered if organic food was worth the difference in price compared to your normal everyday food then this new study may go some way to prove that it is.

The British study outlines benefits whereas other studies in the USA have come to a corresponding conclusion.

One interesting aspect is the way that Stress levels can affect the growth of food. Who would have thought that?

The article also discusses other past studies that did not necessarily find any major differences in nutritional value.

What am I really getting from organic?

Scientists have been trying to answer this question. And the results of a huge new meta-analysis published this week in the British Journal of Nutrition add to the evidence that organic production can boost key nutrients in foods.

The study finds that organic dairy and meat contain about 50 percent more omega-3 fatty acids. The increase is the result of animals foraging on grasses rich in omega-3s, which then end up in dairy and meats. The findings are based on data pooled from more than 200 studies, and research in the U.S. has pointed to similar benefits.

The findings are part of a growing body of evidence documenting how farming methods can influence the nutritional content of foods.

Another large meta-analysis published in 2014, also in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that organic crops — ranging from carrots and broccoli to apples and blueberries — have substantially higher concentrations of a range of antioxidants and other potentially beneficial compounds. That review included data from more than 300 studies.

Organic milk is processed at a dairy farm in Westbrook, Maine. A new meta-analysis finds that organic milk contains significantly more omega-3 fatty acids than its conventional counterpart.

So, what explains these boosts in antioxidant and other beneficial compounds in organic crops? Well, as Seal explains, it comes down to stress.

Organic crops tend to be exposed to higher levels of stress — including insect attacks, Seal says. And in response, they form compounds to help combat the stress.

Research in animals suggests polyacetylene compounds may play a role in reducing inflammation and cancer risk, but it's unclear how much must be eaten to benefit human health.

Current research aims to address this question, but the answer is difficult to suss out, given that our diets are so complex and our bodies may not absorb all the nutrients we eat. In fact, broadly speaking, this is the challenge in trying to isolate the benefits of micronutrients in our diet.

Another difference between organic and conventional crops is the way plants get nitrogen. Conventional crops are given steady doses of nitrogen from synthetic fertilizers. In organic systems, which rely heavily on crop rotation and composting, there's typically less nitrogen available.

As a result, organic crops tend to grow more slowly and produce more of what scientists call secondary plant metabolites. These compounds also may be health-promoting when we eat them.

Carlo Leifert, a professor of agriculture at Newcastle and co-author of the latest study — suggests there are indeed benefits to buying and eating organic. "Taken together, the studies on crops, meat and milk suggest that a switch to organic fruit, vegetables, meat, and dairy products would provide significantly higher amounts of dietary antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids," Leifert wrote in a release about the new papers.

But plenty of skeptics remain. "Such small changes are unlikely to represent any nutritional or health benefit," writes Ian Givens, a professor of nutrition at the University of Reading. In a statement on the new findings, Givens points out that switching from conventional milk to organic milk would increase omega-3 intake by only very small margins.

And an analysis by researchers at Stanford University published several years ago concluded there was no good evidence that organic fruits and vegetables were more nutritious overall.

Given the big picture, lots of experts say that, from a health perspective, what you eat matters more than whether you choose organic or conventional.

And at a time when most Americans don't eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, perhaps the more important step is to add them to your diet — no matter what farming methods were used to grow them.

But if you like the environmental benefits of organic agriculture, these studies point to potential nutritional benefits as well, at least when it comes to maximizing the antioxidants and micronutrients you get from foods.

Source: npr