Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eating Organic: Is it Safer and More Nutritious?

One need to live in a cave to not be aware of the organic food craze in the USA. A reasonable question to ask is whether the consumption of organic foods is actually safer and more nutritious than the alternative. Admittedly, this a tough question to answer as there are no randomized, prospective randomized trials of people eating 'organic' vs 'non-organic'.

Regardless, here is a systematic review of  organic foods and potential health outcomes published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The outcomes of interest was whether organic foods were more nutritious and resulted in fewer exposures to pesticides or bacteria of pathogenic concern.

There was no significant difference in nutrient contents between organic and conventional foods. The risk for contamination with detectable pesticide residues was lower among organic than conventional produce (risk difference, 30% [CI, −37% to −23%]), but differences in risk for exceeding maximum allowed limits were small. E. coli contamination risk did not differ between organic and conventional produce. Bacterial contamination of retail chicken and pork was commonly documented. Of note, the risk for isolating bacteria resistant to 3 or more antibiotics was higher in conventional than in organic chicken and pork (risk difference, 33% [CI, 21% to 45%]). Whether this is clinically significant is unclear.

The bottom line- the current body of literature is sparse, at best, and the findings are by no means conclusive. The published, peer reviewed literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods, however, may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. 

Time for my breakfast bowl of organic granola....

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