Organic doesn’t mean more nutritious, but does it mean healthier?

September 7, 2012

Buy organic produce?

Earlier this week, scientists from Stanford University weighed in on the debate over the benefits of eating organic. After an exhaustive look at over two hundred studies conducted over four decades they concluded that organic produce is no more nutritious than conventional. The study also found that conventional produce had more pesticide residue, but that the higher levels were nearly always below the safety limits. (You know, like the ones that said that it was totally safe to use BPA to make baby bottles.)

Allow me to digress for a moment.

Nutritious is defined as “providing nutrients.” So does an organic peach have more nutrients, vitamin C for example, than a conventional one? No, seems not. And I’m curious: Did you ever think otherwise?

I’ve never assumed that organic produce provided more vitamins and minerals than conventional produce, but I’ve also had the experience of developing an organic food brand. I’m deeply familiar with the rules, labels and definitions associated with natural and organic food production and marketing. But perhaps you feel you’ve been led to believe that organic is more nutritious.

Here’s another question: Do you think that there is a difference between nutritious and healthy?

Bear with me as I refer back to the dictionary. Healthy is defined as “being in good health,” with health defined as “the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit; especially freedom from disease.” While health and nutrition are related, they are also different. And, if you ask me, though reduced pesticide levels may not qualify as more nutritious, it certainly qualifies as healthier. And that’s what I want: healthier fruits and vegetables for my family, especially when my children are very young and taking in a higher volume of produce relative to their body weight than older folks.

I appreciate the Stanford study. I don’t appreciate a lot of the headlines and careless wording I’m reading in reports of the study.

It’s important for consumers to very clearly understand food labels, especially in a advertising driven market. Organic produce is often more expensive and you should know exactly what you’re investing so that you can make the smartest spending decision for your family. The extra dollars happen to be worth it to me, even given the results of the Stanford study. Because as long as organic means reducing chemicals that have no place on our dinner plates (not to mention farming practices that are better for the planet), it’s living up to its promise of being a healthier option.


6 Responses

  1. Kate says:

    I absolutely agree, but my experience engaging with “the public” as a “disease prevention expert” (both terms broadly defined intentionally) is that people DO think organic foods are both healthier and more nutritious because when we talk about the disease prevention benefits of fruits and veggies, we’re likely talking about the nutrient aspects, but of course, we have lots of data about pesticides and cancer in animals. We just don’t know that people who eat organic apples over conventional apples are less likely to get cancer. We do know that people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables get less cancer than people who eat few to no fruits and vegetables. So if you can’t afford organic, that’s okay. I’d rather people ate a conventional apple than an organic cookie.

  2. Leslie says:

    That’s exactly what I was thinking when I read the articles. I don’t buy organic because I think it’s more nutritious. I buy it because it has less chemicals than conventional food. I buy local veggies and fruit mostly because I know where the food was grown and I know it hasn’t sat on a truck forever. I can taste the difference. I also know that just because a food says it’s organic it doesn’t mean it has no spray or no chemicals. I’ll buy local non organic fruit. It might not be certified organic because the small farm couldn’t afford certification. Or they might use some spray but it still tastes better than something from across the country. Maybe they should do a study to see if vegetables delivered and eaten 1 week after harvesting are as nutritious as vegetables delivered and eaten the day of harvest.

  3. I couldn’t agree more, and this was very well said. It worries me that after hearing these reports those people once on the fence, or even skeptical about organics will now choose the cheaper, conventionally grown produce because they will equate “no more nutritious” with “the same”.

  4. Rosie says:

    I have to say that I cringed inside when I began seeing/reading those first few headlines on the Stanford study only because I knew that it would be taken out of context. The reason I buy organic food is because I want less pesticides and chemicals in my family’s food and on our table, period. Any nutritional benefit was never assumed with the nutritional aspect inherent in the fruits and vegetables themselves, not in the method of farming used to produce them.

    Well said on the commentary above.

  5. Amy says:

    I never believed that organic meant more “nutritious”. It means it’s not a chemical laden mess. The word “duh” is tired and cliche at this point but completely applies to this study. I didn’t think that not coating fruits and vegetables in pesticides somehow made them have more vitamins. Who would?

  6. Nicky grower says:

    it means for sure more expensive…and some organic farmers still do not deliver such a high quality for that price.

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