By Alejandra Gordillo, MS, DTR
Organic produce has become increasingly popular to purchase due to its perceived health benefits. There are many assumptions that due to its organic label, it is more beneficial to human health. There is currently no strong evidence that shows that organic produce is any more nutritious than conventionally-grown produce. However, there are several factors as to why a person may choose to buy organic.
The main difference between organic versus conventionally grown produce is the cultivation methods involved in produce production. Conventionally grown produce uses chemical intervention to fight off pests. Unlike conventionally-grown produce, organic produce uses no insecticides, bioengineering, ionizing radiation, or fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients that may affect the growing process of produce.1 In order to be considered organic, there is a series of guidelines a farmer must meet in order to label their food as organic. The organic label emphasizes the use of renewable resources and conservation of soil and water. Because of this, it is more sustainable and less harmful to soil, water, and some wildlife. The organic produce must meet strict guidelines that require no insecticides or genetic engineering. It takes three years for the produce to be considered organic and they don’t receive federal subsidies, so this reflects the true cost of growing. Therefore, a major reason why any may support organic produce is for ethical reasons.
Although there are many ethical reasons a person may choose to purchase organic, there has been limited evidence that shows significant health benefit in choosing organic produce. A systematic review done by Harvard University looked at 17 human studies and 223 studies on nutrient and contaminant levels and found that the lack of strong evidence to suggest that organic produce is more nutrient-dense than conventional produce. It also found that consuming organic produce reduced the amount of pesticide residue consumed. Although this may seem alarming, there has not been any evidence to show that pesticide residue has an impact on human health. 2 Pesticides themselves are harmful to humans however when we consume conventionally-grown produce only the substrate of the pesticide is consumed which has not yet shown any significant impact on human health.
There have been several studies done to distinguish nutrient effects of organic versus conventionally grown produce. A study published in the Food and Nutrition Research journal in Germany found that there was no evidence that consuming conventionally grown foods poses a potential threat compared to organic foods.3 There has been some speculation that there may be some benefits based on animal studies. However, there are no long-term human studies to make any conclusions on organic foods being beneficial to human health. Similarly, a study done by the University of Otago showed that there is no evidence to show that organic produce does not contain higher amounts of nutrients compared to conventionally grown produce. 4
It is evident that there is limited research that shows any benefit on consuming organic versus inorganic produce. There are ethical reasons a person may choose to purchase organic. However, both are comparable in nutrient content. It is important to remember to consume fresh produce in general, whether it be organic or conventionally grown. Vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber which is essential for normal bodily function and nourishment to the body. Below is a recipe from the Marilyn Magaram Center that is simple, veggie filled, and nutritious!
- Frequently Asked Questions. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://organic.org/faqs/
- Smith-Spangler, C., Brandeau, M. L., Hunter, G. E., Bavinger, J. C., Pearson, M., Eschbach, P. J., … Bravata, D. M. (2012). Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives? Annals of Internal Medicine,157(5), 348. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-157-5-201209040-00007
- Barański, M., Rempelos, L., Iversen, P. O., & Leifert, C. (2017). Effects of organic food consumption on human health; the jury is still out! Food & Nutrition Research, 61(1), 1287333. doi: 10.1080/16546628.2017.1287333
- Bourn, D., & Prescott, J. (2002). A Comparison of the Nutritional Value, Sensory Qualities, and Food Safety of Organically and Conventionally Produced Foods. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 42(1), 1–34. doi: 10.1080/10408690290825439