It’s been all over the news this week that organics may not be any healthier than conventionally grown food. The Annals of Internal Medicine released a study saying that “There is little evidence that organic food is more nutritious…” If that’s the case then why should we continue to buy it? I asked Ashley Koff, registered dietician and co-author of “Mom Energy,” for her take on the study.
Yvonne – What kind of impact do you think this study will have on consumers because the first thing I thought was “Sweet, I’ll save so much money buying conventional fruits and vegetables.”
Ashley Koff - I think that consumers who are buying organic, and that number continues to grow (and as the demand grows the cost goes down) are buying organic because they fear the negative health impact of toxins on & in their food, in their water, in the air etc as well as GMOs (genetically modified organisms). They judge “nutrition” as more than a snapshot of one apple possibly having more chromium than another (but see the citation below because quality studies have shown that several organic foods are more nutrient dense). So I think this message will only work well for an already anti-organic person seeking to re-affirm a “cost is most important” approach – if you want an excuse to justify your McDonald’s, you can choose to use this as one, but I think much of America knows or suspects better.
Yvonne – There appeared to be less pesticides in organic produce, but the question is Does that Matter? The authors claim that it may not. What do you think?
Ashley Koff – It’s critical. The negative health impacts of pesticide exposure are proven. The concerns about GMOs are real (enough that 40 countries ban them). Remember an “acceptable” level is determined by the same government who has said that GMOs are safe without requiring any human studies. How we define “nutritious” is at the core of the issue – you see if you consume pesticides regularly your body needs more nutrients to fight against these toxins, to remove what isn’t recognized or usable by the body, or increase risk of disease. Thus, a food grown with pesticides can never be as nutritious as one grown without.
I offer an analogy: Olympic gymnastics judging: two apples compete, they have the same degree of difficulty, but one is sprayed with chemicals on the soil and during development, that same one even looks better, but the chemicals in the air stick to the apple causing it to slip a little, just a little on the beam, or to take a tiny step when it dismounts from the vault. It may look better on the outside, but it’s weaker, it’s GMO, inside and by the time it gets to the 4th apparatus, its fatigued and irritated. So even though it looks the same or better on the outside at the start, it appears to be the same as the other apple, it performs less well, and it finishes less well. The judges are from all over the world, several of whom ban GMOs so that apple gets some additional deductions from them too. On the world stage, the organic apple always wins the gold.
Yvonne - Does this change how you will talk about organics?
Ashley Koff – Absolutely not. I continue to believe that consuming food in it’s whole food form, produced without agents known or questioned to detract from our health or an animal’s health, are best for optimal health. This is the better quality choice – and I will continue to promote it, encouraging all to be Qualitarians. To the media, I reinforce a need to keep nutrition messages honest and simple – you can’t cover stories about how pesticides have negative health impacts, quoting doctors who say especially for women of child-bearing age and young children organic is key for optimal growth and health, and then begin a story with “other than having more pesticides on them, the [chemically produced - my word] non-organic apple is not less nutritious than the organic one. Again, it’s a question of what is nutrition? It is the delivery of nutrients to the body that it recognizes and will use to help it run optimally – pesticides are not nutrition, they are anti-nutrition.
Yvonne – Are there other studies that you would cite with conflicting evidence?
Ashley Koff - http://organicfarms.wsu.edu/blog/devil-in-the-details/
The Stanford team does not define empirically what it means by a food being “significantly more nutritious” than another food. In carefully designed studies comparing organic and conventional foods, organic farming leads to increases on the order of 10% to 30% in the levels of several nutrients, but not all. Vitamin C, antioxidants, and phenolic acids tend to be higher in organic food about 60% to 80% of the time, while vitamin A and protein is higher in conventional food 50% to 80% of the time.
Yvonne - Anything else you would like to add about the study?
Ashley Koff - Sadly, I’m suspicious of the timing. The cynic in me worries that the folks trying to prevent GMO labeling in California would want a story like this to be told right now. But I’m optimistic that the millions who want the right to know what’s in our (US) food, won’t turn on what they intuitively know and trust – food is meant to be eaten, chemicals aren’t.
Yvonne Condes is the Editor and co-Founder of MomsLA, a Community of the Top Mom Bloggers in Los Angeles.