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Pamela Bond's Blog

Could it be true that organic foods don't benefit health?

A new review, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, apparently has found that organic foods do not benefit health. The review was conducted by the same researchers who last year concluded that organic and conventional foods do not differ significantly in their nutrient content.

Although I don't buy organic foods just because I'm hopeful they're more nutritious (the environment is another concern that drives me toward organic), I had to wonder after reading about the study: Had I been tricked into spending more on organic without actually getting more?

To find out, I went to Charles Benbrook, PhD, chief scientist for The Organic Center, a Boulder, Colo.-based organization with a mission to generate peer-reviewed scientific information on organic farming and products. Benbrook says that the review authors’ findings are at odds with a similar analysis carried out by The Organic Center. “We concluded that on average, organic plant-based foods contain 25 percent higher levels of 11 nutrients,” Benbrook says.

Benbrook also points out several methodological flaws in the original study.

As for the new research, Benbrook says the paper focuses on only 12 published studies—a small number.

“We agree with the Dangour team that there are very few high quality studies in the literature assessing nutrient-content/health-outcome linkages stemming from consumption of organic food,” Benbrook says. “The good news is that there are a few quality studies and that some of these have, in fact, reported promising findings.”

Such as, according to Benbrook:

  • Three of the 12 studies reported at least some evidence that consumption of organic food does lead to health benefits.

  • Two studies documented benefits from consumption of organic dairy products, most likely triggered by the higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3s in organic milk.

  • A third study reported evidence that extracts of organic strawberries inhibited cancer-cell proliferation, whereas similar extracts from conventional strawberries did not.

“Given that so few studies have been carried out and the difficulty of establishing solid linkages between any aspect of diet and public health outcomes, it is not surprising that the evidence is limited on the nutrition-related impacts of organic food,” Benbrook says. “It is actually encouraging that one-quarter of the studies identified by the team did, in fact, have some evidence of a positive health impact, or increased odds of a positive health outcome.”

Convinced? Let me know your thoughts below.

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