Is Organic Food Really More Nutritious?
Two large new studies suggests the answer is “yes”, even when it comes to meats and dairy
Two large new studies suggests the answer is “yes”, even when it comes to meats and dairy
Looking to get biggest nutritional bang for your meat and dairy buck?
Two extensive new studies suggest that it makes sense to choose organic.
A British-European team reviewed 263 studies that compared the nutritional content of organic versus conventional milk and meat.
They found clear advantages for organic milk and meat … especially in terms of omega 3 fatty acids, the balance between omega-3s and omega 6 fatty acids, and certain antioxidants.
This matters because Americans need all the omega-3s and antioxidants they can get, and fewer omega-6s.
American diets lack omega-3s
Several years ago, Harvard University researchers came to an alarming conclusion.
They estimated that omega-3 deficiencies may kill 84,000 Americans prematurely every year.
And the new British-European findings show that switching to organic meat and milk would significantly raise people's omega-3 intakes.
As Professor Chris Seal of Newcastle University said, "Omega-3s are linked to reductions in cardiovascular disease, improved neurological development and function, and better immune function.”
"But getting enough in our diet is difficult. Our study suggests that switching to organic would go some way towards improving intakes of these important nutrients.”
Organic milk's superior nutrient profile
The new review found that organic milk offers a superior fat and antioxidant profile:
- Lower (healthier) omega-6/omega-3 ratio
- More short-chain and long-chain omega-3s
- Lower levels of saturated fats (myristic and palmitic acid)
- 40 percent more CLA – a generally beneficial fatty acid
- Higher levels of antioxidant vitamin E and carotenoids (e.g., beta-carotene)
On average, one-half liter (17 ounces) of organic whole milk provides an estimated 16% (39 mg) of the recommended, daily intake (250 mg) of the long-chain omega-3s our bodies actually need – EPA, DPA, and DHA – while conventional milk provides 11% (25 mg).
In addition, the scientists found higher levels of the short-chain, plant-source omega 3 known as ALA, which our bodies convert into vital long-chain omega-3s.
They also found lower levels of the short-chain, plant source omega-6 fat known as LA, which competes with dietary omega-3 ALA for conversion into the long-chain forms of each family of fatty acids.
This combination of higher omega-3 ALA levels and lower omega-6 LA levels in organic milk means that – compared with conventional milk – more of the omega-3 ALA in organic milk gets converted into the long-chain omega-3s we actually need.
The study attributed the superior fat profiles of organic milk to the ample outdoor grazing and relatively low levels of grain-based feed prescribed by organic farming standards.
In addition, as the study's authors said, several mother-child studies link organic milk, dairy products, and vegetables to a reduced risk of certain allergies and autoimmune diseases in babies, such as eczema.
Organic meat found superior as well
Surprisingly, there have been no systematic reviews comparing the nutrient content of organic and conventionally produced meat.
So in one of their two studies, the British-European team analyzed 67 studies comparing the composition of organic and non-organic meat products.
And compared with conventional meats, organic meats looked better:
- Similar levels of saturated fats
- 23% more total polyunsaturated fats
- 47% more omega-3 polyunsaturated fats
- Lower ratio of omega-6 to omega 3 polyunsaturated fats
Organic meats' advantage in omega-3s matters because, as the authors wrote, "For the majority of North American and European consumers, meat is the main dietary source for long-chain omega-3s, supplying up to an estimated 50% of the recommended adequate intake.”
Prior evidence in favor of organic foods
Two years ago, the same team compared the nutritional composition of organic and conventionally-grown crops.
That analysis found that organic crops are up to 60 percent higher in a number of key antioxidants and contained less of the toxic metal cadmium … see Organic Crops Offer More Antioxidants.
And we recommend these prior reports from our news archive:
- Adler SA, Jensen SK, Govasmark E, Steinshamn H. Effect of short-term versus long-term grassland management and seasonal variation in organic and conventional dairy farming on the composition of bulk tank milk. J Dairy Sci. 2013 Sep;96(9):5793-810. doi: 10.3168/jds.2012-5765. Epub 2013 Jul 5.
- Barański M, Srednicka-Tober D, Volakakis N, Seal C, Sanderson R, Stewart GB, Benbrook C, Biavati B, Markellou E, Giotis C, Gromadzka-Ostrowska J, Rembiałkowska E, Skwarło-Sońta K, Tahvonen R, Janovská D, Niggli U, Nicot P, Leifert C. Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. Br J Nutr. 2014 Sep 14;112(5):794-811.
- Benbrook CM, Butler G, Latif MA, Leifert C, Davis DR. Organic production enhances milk nutritional quality by shifting fatty acid composition: a United States-wide, 18-month study. PLoS One. 2013 Dec 9;8(12):e82429. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0082429. eCollection 2013
- Caris-Veyrat C, Amiot MJ, Tyssandier V, Grasselly D, Buret M, Mikolajczak M, Guilland JC, Bouteloup-Demange C, Borel P. Influence of organic versus conventional agricultural practice on the antioxidant microconstituent content of tomatoes and derived purees; consequences on antioxidant plasma status in humans. J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Oct 20;52(21):6503-9.
- Chassy AW, Bui L, Renaud EN, Van Horn M, Mitchell AE. Three-year comparison of the content of antioxidant microconstituents and several quality characteristics in organic and conventionally managed tomatoes and bell peppers. J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Oct 18;54(21):8244-52.
- Ellis KA, Innocent G, Grove-White D, Cripps P, McLean WG, Howard CV, Mihm M. Comparing the fatty acid composition of organic and conventional milk. J Dairy Sci. 2006 Jun;89(6):1938-50.
- Fall N, Emanuelson U. Fatty acid content, vitamins and selenium in bulk tank milk from organic and conventional Swedish dairy herds during the indoor season. J Dairy Res. 2011 Aug;78(3):287-92. doi: 10.1017/S0022029911000392.
- Gyorene KG, Varga A, Lugasi A. [A comparison of chemical composition and nutritional value of organically and conventionally grown plant derived foods] Orv Hetil. 2006 Oct 29;147(43):2081-90. Review. Hungarian.
- Hallmann E. The influence of organic and conventional cultivation systems on the nutritional value and content of bioactive compounds in selected tomato types. J Sci Food Agric. 2012 Feb 20. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.5617. [Epub ahead of print]
- Mader P, Fliessbach A, Dubois D, Gunst L, Fried P, Niggli U. Soil fertility and biodiversity in organic farming. Science. 2002 May 31;296(5573):1694-7. Magkos F, Arvaniti F, Zampelas A. Organic food: nutritious food or food for thought? A review of the evidence. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2003 Sep;54(5):357-71. Review.
- Mitchell AE, Hong YJ, Koh E, Barrett DM, Bryant DE, Denison RF, Kaffka S. Ten-year comparison of the influence of organic and conventional crop management practices on the content of flavonoids in tomatoes. J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Jul 25;55(15):6154-9. Epub 2007 Jun 23.
- Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter GE, Bavinger JC, Pearson M, Eschbach PJ, Sundaram V, Liu H, Schirmer P, Stave C, Olkin I, Bravata DM. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: a systematic review. Ann Intern Med. 2012 Sep 4;157(5):348-66. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-157-5-201209040-00007. Review. Erratum in: Ann Intern Med. 2012 Oct 2;157(7):532. Ann Intern Med. 2012 Nov 6;157(9):680.
- Średnicka-Tober D, Barański M, Seal C, Sanderson R, Benbrook C, Steinshamn H, Gromadzka-Ostrowska J, Rembiałkowska E, Skwarło-Sońta K, Eyre M, Cozzi G, Krogh Larsen M, Jordon T, Niggli U, Sakowski T, Calder PC, Burdge GC, Sotiraki S, Stefanakis A, Yolcu H, Stergiadis S, Chatzidimitriou E, Butler G, Stewart G, Leifert C. Composition differences between organic and conventional meat: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr. 2016 Mar;115(6):994-1011. doi: 10.1017/S0007114515005073. Epub 2016 Feb 16.
- Średnicka-Tober D, Barański M, Seal CJ, Sanderson R, Benbrook C, Steinshamn H, Gromadzka-Ostrowska J, Rembiałkowska E, Skwarło-Sońta K, Eyre M, Cozzi G, Larsen MK, Jordon T, Niggli U, Sakowski T, Calder PC, Burdge GC, Sotiraki S, Stefanakis A, Stergiadis S, Yolcu H, Chatzidimitriou E, Butler G, Stewart G, Leifert C. 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. Br J Nutr. 2016 Mar;115(6):1043-60. doi: 10.1017/S0007114516000349. Epub 2016 Feb 16.
- Vallverdú-Queralt A, Arranz S, Casals-Ribes I, Lamuela-Raventós RM. Stability of the phenolic and carotenoid profile of gazpachos during storage. J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Feb 29;60(8):1981-8. Epub 2012 Feb 15.
- Vallverdú-Queralt A, Jáuregui O, Medina-Remón A, Lamuela-Raventós RM. Evaluation of a method to characterize the phenolic profile of organic and conventional tomatoes. J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Apr 4;60(13):3373-80. Epub 2012 Mar 26. DOI: 10.1021/jf204702f
- Vallverdú-Queralt A, Martínez-Huélamo M, Arranz-Martinez S, Miralles E, Lamuela-Raventós RM. Differences in the carotenoid content of ketchups and gazpachos through HPLC/ESI(Li(+) )-MS/MS correlated with their antioxidant capacity. J Sci Food Agric. 2012 Aug 15;92(10):2043-9. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.5598. Epub 2012 Jan 30.
- Vallverdú-Queralt A, Medina-Remón A, Casals-Ribes I, Amat M, Lamuela-Raventós RM. A metabolomic approach differentiates between conventional and organic ketchups. J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Nov 9;59(21):11703-10. Epub 2011 Oct 11.
- Worthington V. Effect of agricultural methods on nutritional quality: a comparison of organic with conventional crops. Altern Ther Health Med. 1998 Jan;4(1):58-69. Review.
- Worthington V. Nutritional quality of organic versus conventional fruits, vegetables, and grains. J Altern Complement Med. 2001 Apr;7(2):161-73.
- Young JE, Zhao X, Carey EE, Welti R, Yang SS, Wang W. Phytochemical phenolics in organically grown vegetables. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2005 Dec;49(12):1136-42.