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What Are The Health Benefits Of Organic Food?

Last updated Dec. 5, 2016

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

One of the benefits of organic farming is that it can help improve heart health.

Organic food is being consumed at rapid rates in the United States. According to the Nutrition Business Journal, organic food sales in the United States increased from approximately $11 billion in 2004 to an estimated $27 billion in 2012. Is there a difference between conventionally-grown food and organic food? New research is continuously exploring to find out which is better.

Products confirmed as 95% or more organic are permitted to use the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) seal on their product. The term “organic” refers to how farmers grow and process agricultural produce like fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products, and meat. These farmers do not use novel methods to fertilize and control weeds. Organic farming practices are intended to promote soil and water conservation and decrease pollution. 

Experts from Newcastle University suggested that organic produce have as much as 60% more key antioxidants than conventionally-grown produce. They reviewed 343 peer-reviewed studies discussing the differences between organic and conventional crops. Results showed that changing to eating organic fruit, vegetables, and cereals would provide additional antioxidants equivalent to eating 1-2 extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

The same study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, included that organic products have significantly lower levels of toxic metals. Organic crops had as low as 50% less cadmium, lead, and mercury levels than conventionally grown crops.

One of the major reasons why farmers found conventionally-grown crops appealing was because of the ability to use pesticides. Pesticides could include harsh chemicals like organophosphorus. This unnatural mineral is not needed for human beings, but 80% of organophosphorus found in humans originates from eating pesticide-treated foods. The Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine also found that organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide several health benefits for the consumer.

One of the benefits of organic farming is that it can help improve heart health. Animals that increased the amount of time grazing on grass also had higher quantities of a heart-healthy fatty acid conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). These animals are usually called free-range or cage-free animals.

Some studies do not sell that organic food is better for you. A study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2012, indicates that organic food may not be more nutritious or any less prone to bacterial contamination than conventionally grown foods. This study was a systematic review of more than 200 research papers, which found no evidence of health benefits attached to organic foods.

Dr. Christine M. Williams published a review in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. She concluded that there are very few scientific studies that compare conventionally grown crops with organic produce under comparable and controlled conditions. The health benefits of organic food remains controversial and requires more studies under controlled situations.

Additional Resources:

Barański, M., Średnicka-Tober, D., Volakakis, N., Seal, C., Sanderson, R., Stewart, G. B., ... & Leifert, C. (2014). Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. British Journal of Nutrition, 112(05), 794-811.

Bergamo, P., Fedele, E., Iannibelli, L., & Marzillo, G. (2003). Fat-soluble vitamin contents and fatty acid composition in organic and conventional Italian dairy products. Food Chemistry, 82(4), 625-631.

Bower, C. K., & Daeschel, M. A. (1999). Resistance responses of microorganisms in food environments. International Journal of Food Microbiology, 50(1), 33-44.

Brown, M. A., & Brix, K. A. (1998). Review of health consequences from high‐, intermediate‐and low‐level exposure to organophosphorus nerve agents.Journal of Applied Toxicology, 18(6), 393-408.

Crinnion, W. J. (2010). Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer. Alternative medicine review: a journal of clinical therapeutic, 15(1), 4-12.

Organic production and handling standards. U.S. Department of Agriculture http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004445&acct=nopgeninfo. Accessed Jan. 28, 2014.

Stoller, A., Krupinski, J., Christophers, A. J., & Blanks, G. K. (1965). Organophosphorus insecticides and major mental illness: an epidemiological investigation. The Lancet, 285(7400), 1387-1388.

USDA ERS - Chart: Consumer demand drives growth in the organic food sector. (2013, February 8). Retrieved January 20, 2015, from http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/detail.aspx?chartId=35003

Williams, C. M. (2002). Nutritional quality of organic food: shades of grey or shades of green?. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 61(01), 19-24.

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Magnusson, M. K., Arvola, A., Hursti, U. K. K., Åberg, L., & Sjödén, P. O. (2003). Choice of organic foods is related to perceived consequences for human health and to environmentally friendly behaviour. Appetite, 40(2), 109-117.

Edward III, F., & DCBCN, D. (2014). Health Benefits of Organic Food. health.

Givens, D. I. (2008). Health benefits of organic food: effects of the environment. CABI.

Mangels, R. (2006). Health benefits of organic food for children. Vegetarian Journal, 25, 12-14.

Byrum, A. (2003). Report confirms more health benefits of organic food. Organicconsumers. org.

McDougall, G. J. (2009). Health Benefits of Organic Food. Effects of the Environment. Edited by I. Givens, S. Baxter, AM Minihane and E. Shaw. Wallingford, UK: CABI Publishing (2008), pp. 319,£ 85.00. ISBN 978-1-84593-459-0. Experimental Agriculture, 45(03), 375-375.

Keith, M. A. (2009). Health Benefits of Organic Food: Effect of the Environment. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 41(5), 377-e7.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Dec. 5, 2016
Last updated: Dec. 5, 2016