Written by Alexandria DeVito, MS:
Alexandria is a functional nutritionist, Eating Psychology Coach, yoga teacher and personal trainer. With a background in nutrition and fitness, she brings the best of both disciplines to help clients address any areas they may want to optimize in their lives (e.g., increasing energy levels, relieving digestive distress, losing or maintaining weight). Alexandria is dedicated to helping clients unlock their best selves in order to give and receive the most out of their relationships, work and life. Prior to becoming a nutritionist, she was a consultant to the pharmaceutical and medical device industry. Alexandria holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration from Georgetown University, a Master’s of Science in Nutrition from University of Bridgeport and a Master’s in Business Administration from Harvard Business School.
To go organic or not to go organic – that is the question. And the answer is….. YES!
Many people reach for organic products because they believe them to be healthier than their conventional counterparts. But, is that really the case?
Two recent studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition support the benefits of organic: higher omega-3’s, higher antioxidants and lower pesticides
Study 1: Organic dairy higher in omega-3 fatty acids
A recent study found that organic dairy products have over 50% more omega-3 fatty acids than their conventional counterparts. The meta-analysis, which was based on 170 studies, compared the nutrient profile of organic and conventional milk, finding that organic milk has a more desirable fatty acid profile than conventional milk. This difference is attributed to an animals’ higher intake of fresh forage with organic farming. While the study found no significant differences in total saturated fatty acids or monounsaturated fatty acids, they did find significantly higher polyunsaturated fat content in the organic milk compared with the conventional milk. In particular, omega-3 polyunsaturated fats were found to be 56% higher in organic milk: ALA (α-linolenic acid) was 69% higher, EPA+DPA+DHA were 57% higher and CLA (conjugated linolenic acid) was 41% higher. As a result, the inflammatory v. anti-inflammatory fatty acid ratios were also more favorable in the organic milk: the n-6:n-3 and LA:ALA ratios were lower in organic milk by 71% and 93%, respectively.
This is welcome news for organic supporters since the health benefits of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are well-documented. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (LA, ALA, EPA, DPA and DHA) have all been shown to protect against cardiovascular disease. Specifically, LA is associated with a reduction in LDL production and an increase in LDL clearance; EPA and DHA are both known to reduce inflammation, arrhythmias, blood pressure, platelet sensitivity and triglyceride levels; CLA has been known to improve risk factors for obesity, cancer, atherosclerosis, hypertension and diabetes. The health benefits of these polyunsaturated fats are broad and powerful.
Study 2: Organic crops higher in antioxidants and lower in pesticide residues
In the first ever global study of this breadth, a meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that organic crops were substantially higher in antioxidants (up to 69%) and meaningfully lower in pesticide residues (up to 4x less) than conventional crops. This meta-analyses was based on 343 peer-reviewed publications, focused mainly in Europe. Among these studies, ~50% analyzed vegetable crops, ~33% analyzed fruit crops and the remaining studies looked at other crop species (e.g., oil seeds, herbs and spices, etc.).
The antioxidant content of the organic crops (including total flavonoids, phenolic acids, flavanones, stilbenes, flavones, flavonols, kaempferol, anthocyanins) ranged from 19-69% higher than the conventional crops. In addition, the analysis also showed meaningfully higher concentrations of xanthophylls and l-ascorbic acid but significantly lower concentrations of vitamin E within organic produce. For certain antioxidants, there was no difference between the organic and conventional crops studied (e.g., individual carotenoids, specific B and E vitamins). Taking all of this into account, the antioxidant content of the organic crops surpassed that of the conventional crops by a meaningful margin. This is important because many of these antioxidants have been linked to a reduced risk of chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease and certain cancers.
The study also found that organic crops tended to have significantly lower concentrations of cadmium and nitrogen than their conventional counterparts. No significant differences were observed for arsenic and lead between the two different crop types. Most importantly, the frequency in occurrence of detectable pesticide residues was 4x higher in conventional crops than in their organic counterparts.
A win for organic supporters
These two meta-analyses confirm that there are compositional differences between organic and conventionally raised crops for a range of nutrients. Organic crops were found to have higher omega-3 fatty acids, higher antioxidant activity and lower pesticide residues- this essentially translates into more good stuff and less bad stuff when consuming organic. This is yet another win for those who support organic farming. Demand for organic foods has been driven, in large part, by the belief that organic products are more nutritious; this study offers scientific support to many of the claims that organic proponents have been making for years.
1. Baranski et al. (2014). Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4141693/. Br J Nutr, 112(5), 794-811. doi: 10.1017/S0007114514001366.
2. Srednicka-Tober et al. (2016). Higher PUFA and n-3 PUFA, conjugated linoleic acid, α-tocopherol and iron, but lower iodine and selenium concentrations in organic milk: a systematic literature review and meta- and redundancy analyses. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4838834/. Br J Nutr, 115(6), 1043–1060. doi: 10.1017/S0007114516000349.