Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 2.36.04 PM An international study, due out this week in the British Journal of Nutrition, concludes that organic foods may have more antioxidants and less pesticides and toxic metals. But it doesn’t provide any proof that organic necessarily means healthier.

The study was based on of an analysis of 343 peer-reviewed studies from around the world  that examined differences between organic and conventional fruit, veggies, and cereals. Lead researcher Carlo Leifert of Newcastle University told The Guardian that antioxidant levels were between 19 and 69 percent higher in organic food.

But Professor Richared Mithen of the Institute of Food Research thinks such statements are misleading. “The references to ‘antioxidants’ and ‘antioxidant activity,’ and various ‘antioxidant’ assays would suggest a poor knowledge of the current understanding within the nutrition community of how fruit and vegetables may maintain and improve health,” he explains.

The study also raises other concerns from within the food and nutrition community.

The research is certain to be criticised: the inclusion of so many studies in the analysis could mean poor quality work skews the results, although the team did ‘sensitivity analyses’ and found that excluding weaker work did not significantly change the outcome.

Also, the higher levels of cadmium and pesticides in conventional produce were still well below regulatory limits. But the researchers say cadmium accumulates over time in the body and that some people may wish to avoid this, and that pesticide limits are set individually, not for the cocktail of chemicals used on crops.

A further criticism is that the differences seen may result from different climate, soil types and crop varieties, and not from organic farming, though the researchers argue that combining many studies should average out these other differences.

The greatest criticism, however, will be over the suggestions of potential health benefits. The most recent major analysis, which took in 223 studies in 2012, found little evidence. “The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods,” it found.

“You are not going to be better nourished if you eat organic food,” says Tom Sanders, professor of nutrition at Kings College London. “What is most important is what you eat, not whether it’s organic or conventional. It’s whether you eat fruit and vegetables at all. People are buying into a lifestyle system. They get an assurance it is not being grown with chemicals and is not grown by big business.”

But Sanders does point out that organic farming results in less fertilizer runoff and soil degradation.

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  • elle

    I would LOVE for people to just start to think, instead of being spoon-fed information. When I was growing up, the ATKINS diet was a thing, and the foods were labeled “carb-free”, “reduced carbs”. Then studies showed that that diet does damage to your system. Now I’m seeing “gluten-free” stickers on my bananas. How the hell would a fruit have gluten in it if it doesn’t have flour? And if you don’t have a gluten allergy, why do you care so much that you have to be reminded that a BANANA has not gluten? Of course organic food does not nourish a person better than any other kind of fruit because that is not what “organic” refers to. The world would be a better place if folks would think.

    • Kema

      “Now I’m seeing “gluten-free” stickers on my bananas. How the hell would a fruit have gluten in it if it doesn’t have flour? ”

      Haha! My son asked me the same thing. Well its not a false statement. Just like veggies or fruit that have a ‘fat free’ sticker.

      Atkins was not intended to be a long-term solution and was more a short term solution against the sugar addiction many people have. I’m more a fan of the South beach diet.

  • LemonnLime

    For me, consuming less pesticides and metals is healthier than eating foods grown with chemicals, pesticides, and metals which is why I eat organic. Now, I do think people need to stop jumping on food trends, the gluten-free trend is a prime example. Unless you have a actually gluten intolerance, there is no reason to eat gluten-free. I think that extends to everything __-free: dairy-free, sugar-free, etc. Often times the ingredients added to make it whatever free are worse than the ingredient you are trying to avoid.

    • omfg

      “there is no reason to eat gluten-free. I think that extends to everything __-free: dairy-free, sugar-free, etc. Often times the ingredients added to make it whatever free are worse than the ingredient you are trying to avoid.”

      what? this makes no sense.

      dairy-free – most people in the world are lactose intolerant. and there are places (east asia) and traditionally in some part of africa, where they don’t consume dairy. i’ve read that up to 90% of africans are actually lactose intolerant. this tells me dairy is probably best not consumed by large swaths of people. i believe much of our food myths and beliefs are based on western standards. i think we should be cognizant of this.

      also, the people with the highest rates of bone fractures, osteoporosis, etc. are in areas where people consume tons of dairy. the logic isn’t consistent when you look at it.

      sugar free – really? nobody is gonna die because they don’t eat that white table crap. and no, i don’t include fruit in with sugar. i only eat food with added sugar once or twice a week. been doing this for two years now and it’s one of the best dietary changes i’ve ever made. but i eat unlimited amounts of fruit. i do not consume fruit juice unless i make it.

    • LemonnLime

      What I mean is that unless you have a dietary reason not to eat something, I don’t think it benefits one to eat foods that are free of whatever. No where did I say not to drink fruit juice or whatever. I think it’s better to eat whole foods the way they are rather than eating a ___free version of it unless you have a dietary restriction that requires it.

      For example, in order to make food that would naturally have gluten gluten-free, often they have to put in a lot more chemical additives to replicate the effects of the gluten. Another example is people who jumped on the anti-fat diets and so they started adding olestra to food instead. Turns out, normal potato chips were better for you (and your underwear) than olestra chips.

    • CAsweetface

      Agreed LemonnLime…when something says sugar free that usually means some sort of artificial sweeteners which is also harmful. Same goes for fat free products. Whole foods are best.

    • Kema

      Many people are finding that they are gluten sensitive. I agree that maybe you shouldn’t shop for diet products but there is nothing wrong with eliminating gluten, excess sugar or dairy from your diet. I have done so by only shopping the parameter of the supermarket. I also try not to buy foods with ingredients aka processed food.

  • omfg

    if there are two tomatoes of the same variety and one naturally has more nutrients (antioxidants, etc.) than the other, i’m choosing the one with more nutrients. why? i try to eat for nutrient density. i will select the tomato (if the cost is right and the difference in nutrition is significant enough) that is more nutrient dense AND has fewer metals, contaminants, etc. that is a healthier choice.

    i think the way this is explained might be inaccurate in the above story. i don’t know.

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  • CAsweetface

    Eating foods with less heavy metal exposure and pesticides is enough for me to pay a few cents/dollars more at the grocery store. I would never think one vegetable item had more nutrients than the other because one was organic and one was not. I don’t think ANY level of exposure to harmful chemicals is good so if I can limit them I do. This is why there is an influx of chronic diseases and cancers because of our exposure to this bull.