Is organic food better for you than conventionally produced food? | The Tylt
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine says organic foods can help reduce your risk for cancer. Proponents of the study argue organic foods are less likely to be exposed to pesticides—which many believe are carcinogens—making a diet of organic foods better for your long-term health. Critics argue there is still not enough evidence to prove that eating organic foods limits the average person’s cancer risk. What do you think?
Is organic food better for you than conventionally produced food?
Many people believe organic foods to be more nutritious than their grocery-store counterparts. According to JAMA Internal Medicine's new study, these assumptions may not be far off. The study stands apart from its predecessors because it actually used human subjects to observe the long-term effects of eating organic. CNN's Susan Scutti reports:
...a team of researchers looked at the diets of 68,946 French adults. More than three-quarters of the volunteers were women, in their mid-40s on average.
Follow-up time varied for each participant but lasted slightly more than four and a half years on average, and during that time, the study volunteers developed a total of 1,340 cancers. The most prevalent was breast cancer (459) followed by prostate cancer (180)....
Researchers concluded that the participants who ate the most organic foods were 25 percent less likely to develop cancer within the timespan of the study.
Scutti continues her reporting, saying the authors of the study:
...theorize a 'possible explanation' for the negative relationship between organic food and cancer risk stems from the 'significant' reduction of contamination that occurs when conventional foods are replaced by organic foods.
Meaning, the reason for the 25 percent reduction in cancer risk is actually due to infrequent exposure to pesticides. Organic foods are certainly one strategy to lower pesticide consumption (as is washing your fruits and vegetables), but critics say the study implies causation rather than correlation, and in doing so, takes one too many steps with its conclusion that organic foods could lower your risk of cancer.
Scutti referred to Dr. Jorge E. Chavarro, an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, for insight:
Chavarro also said it is unclear that quantifying organic food consumption is really calculating what the study authors want to measure–reduced exposure to pesticide residues through diet.
'At the current stage of research, the relationship between organic food consumption and cancer risk is still unclear,' Chavarro and his co-authors wrote in the commentary.
'We should probably be studying this more.'
In addition to containing fewer pesticides and harmful chemicals, organic foods also contain more nutrients. According to TIME's Amanda MacMillan and Julia Naftulin:
When it comes to meat and milk, organic products can have about 50% more omega-3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated healthy fat, than conventionally produced products.
In a recent six-year study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers found that organic onions had about a 20% higher antioxidant content than conventionally grown onions.
Many consumers also point out organic products are typically fresher since they don't contain preservatives. And for the environmentally conscious, some say that organic farming is better for the environment and more humane for livestock.
Organic foods offer a host of benefits to those who can afford to incorporate them regularly into their diet. As research on the subject expands, it's becoming more clear that organic foods offer few, if any, drawbacks.
In the 1990s, Congress required the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop national standards for organic agricultural products. The goal was to assure consumers that "products marketed as organic meet certain standards."
But finding accurately labeled organic products in the store is much more of a nightmare than you may think. If you're not regularly looking for certain colors on stickers and counting the digits in product numbers, you could be doing something wrong. Furthermore, according to Balance:
To make the issue of real organics even trickier, some accredited certifying agents, along with the USDA, have come under fire for certifying products as organic when the product doesn't always follow USDA standards for organic certification. For example, a 2010 USDA Inspector General report found that the enforcement of federal laws governing organics is abysmal.
Organic regulations also vary from country to country, bringing a new layer of confusion to the mix. At the end of the day, the Susan G. Komen Foundation sums up the potential benefits of organic foods:
The USDA does not claim that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food.