August 22, 2008

In The News: The Least Newsworthy Item Ever

CNN is reporting the results of a study by the University of Copenhagen which concluded that "organic foods contained no more nutrients than non-organic foods grown with the use of pesticides."

More specifically, "researchers studied five different crops -- carrots, kale, mature peas, apples and potatoes -- which were cultivated both organically (without pesticides) and conventionally (with the use of pesticides) and found that there was no higher level of trace elements in the food grown organically."

How is this news? Organic foods have never been touted as "more nutritious," simply pesticide-free, easier to substain, and gentler on the environment.

As far as nutrition is concerned, an organic orange has just as much vitamin C and fiber as a conventional one.

If we're talking solely about lowering pesticide consumption from fruits and vegetables, organic choices are best suited to ones with thin skins or that you eat in their entirety (i.e.: raspberries, as opposed to pineapples.)

Let's not lose track of what is truly important -- eating a variety of fruits and vegetables every day provides many health benefits.

You're guaranteed several nutrients and phytochemicals, regardless of how they are grown.

Thank you to Patricia D. for forwarding along the CNN article.

9 comments:

Rachelle said...

I'm going to respectfully disagree with the idea that if you buy organic, "you only need to plunk down the extra cash on fruits and vegetable with thin skins that you eat in their entirety." The pesticides and herbicides used to grow bananas, oranges, mangoes, squashes, etc. still go into everyone's environment, and they still affect the people who live and work on farms.

Also, I have read that non-organic animal products (e.g. in milk, cheese, and meat) contain higher concentrations of agricultural chemicals than most fruits and vegetables. I have read that if you want to avoid pesticides/herbicides, it might be best to start with organic animal products and just give your fruit & veg a good wash. Any thoughts, Andy?

Andy Bellatti said...

Rachelle,

You are absolutely right on both accounts. Allow me to clarify what I meant.

From an environmental standpoint, organic is always the better option in terms of how crops are farmed.

My suggestion of focusing on thin-skinned fruits and vegetables was solely in regards to the fruits and vegetables that have been found to have the highest amount of pesticides.

A conventional strawberry (of which you eat the entire thing) has some of the highest pesticide counts.

Conventional avocados? Not so much.

This is not to say that there is no reason to buy an organic avocado; there are plenty of reasons.

However, looking at this solely from the viewpoint of ingested pesticides, the case isn't as strong.

By the way, I only mentioned fruits and vegetables because those were the foods used in the study.

It wasn't my intention to say that organics is only "worth it" with fruits and vegetables.

Although I myself do not eat red meat, pork, or poultry, I think going organic with those is a good idea.

As far as simply giving fruits and veggies a "good wash," there are so many pesticides in conventional berries that water isn't going to do much of anything.

Jessica said...

I think that the study may have been a response to the fact that some people Do claim that organic is more nutritious. I now I have seen in print that "mass commercial farming has depleted the soil" and that organic farms have more nutrients left in the soil for the plants to absorb, etc.
I didn't know if it was true or not, but at least someone did an actual study as opposed to just assuming organic farming produces healthier food.

Andy Bellatti said...

PS: I slightly edited one paragraph on the post to make my point clearer.

Thank you again, Rachelle.

David Brown said...

Taking a deeper look at what's going on here, it's interesting that another study, published by the same Danish research team earlier this year, indicated “differences between dietary treatments composed of ingredients from different cultivation methods caused differences in some health-related biomarkers". Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, said, “the animals fed an organic diet were actually found to be healthier than the animals given a non-organic diet.”

Note that the minerals under study in this experiment were Ca, P, Mg, Na, K, Fe, Zn, Cu, Mo, Co, Cd, and V. This is not a complete list of the trace minerals plants take up. For example, in the valley where I live, pastured livestock will often develop white muscle disease if their feed does not contain a selenium supplement.

In my own experience with organic gardening I see improvements in flavor and keeping ability with addition of organic matter to my soil.

Andy Bellatti said...

David, I am not sure what exactly you are trying to say.

Organic foods can indeed be healthier since they are pesticide free, but that does not make them more nutritious.

David Brown said...

Andy,

I guess what I'm trying to say is that this particular experiment demonstrated that it is difficult to pinpoint the factors that make organic food healthier in terms of its nutritional elements. To be truly healthy, every living organism needs a constant and complete supply of nutritional elements in roughly the right proportions. An overage or shortage of any element can result in toxicity, or biochemical imbalance.

A weakness of the above research lies in the fact that the food was grown in organically certified soil to which either manures or chemical fertilizers were added during a relatively short period. Likely, there was not sufficient time for trace mineral depletion to manifest itself in the chemically fertilized crops. Had the researchers done continuous cropping for a decade using organic fertilizers on one plot and chemical fertilizers on another and then tested the 10th year produce, a different picture might have emerged. One wonders why they didn't just compare the soil of an organic producer with that of a nearby farm that consistently used chemical fertilizers.

Andy Bellatti said...

David, I think you will find this article interesting:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/07/dining/07curious.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=mcgee+harold&st=nyt&oref=slogin

David Brown said...

Andy,

Thanks for the link to the nytimes article. Dr. Grossmans remarks were especially interesting. Note this paragraph:

“The biochemical machinery in plants is incredibly prolific,” Dr. Grossman said. “They can make hundreds of relatives of beta carotene alone. I’m sure we haven’t identified all the beneficial chemicals in plants. And diversity in the molecules we consume may be beneficial in itself.”

In the end, it may not be possible to chemically assess the differences between organic and non-organic produce in a manner that would tell us precisely what we want to know.

Dave