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Is organic healthier?

Healthy food comes from healthy agriculture. Producers of baby food use organic products almost exclusively, because organic vegetables and fruit are normally free from pesticide residues. According to research they also contain more vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and bio-active matter. Organic dairy products contain more healthy fatty acids and organic meat contains less antibiotics-resistant bacteria. Nevertheless the health effect of organic food is scientifically undecided. 

British Journal of Nutrition, 2014

In 2014 the British Journal of Nutrition published the research "Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops", a meta-analysis of  van 343 previous research papers comparing the health benefits and nutritional values between organic and non-organic products. 

The four most important conclusions: 

  • Organic crops contain 17% more anti-oxidants than non-organic.  For some anti-oxidants the difference was huge, for example 69% more flavonons.
  • On average organic crops contain 48%  less cadmium than conventional crops.
  • Non-organic crops contain four times higher levels of chemical – synthetic residues. Organic products contain far less and lower levels of residues.  The study did not look at organic pesticides such as Spinosad.
  • Organic crops were found to have less nitrate, fibres and protein.

The Stanford study

In 2012 Stanford University published a large study about health effects of organic food compared to conventional food. In the summary, the researchers drew the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to say that organic food is healthier. However, the report also states that:

  • Organic food contains 30% less pesticides.
  • Organic food is less often contaminated with multi-resistant bacteria.
  • Organic food contains significantly more anti-oxidants.

A critical evaluation of the Stanford study can be found here.

Scientific doubt

It is not allowed to make the claim that organic food is healthier. Even if it's clear that organic vegetables have higher vitamin C content, this does not necessarily imply that they are more healthy. Health is a very complex thing to measure and research in laboratory conditions yields different results than field research. The end result is that there are many contradictory studies.

Mothers and children

Many women switch to organic food when they are pregnant or breast feed. That makes sense, because children have very low bodymass and are therefore more sensitive to pesticide remains in their food. Babies are even more susceptible because harmful substances can very easily reach their brains in the first phases of life. Research shows that children who eat conventional fruits and vegetables have traces of pesticides in their urine. As soon as they turnen to organic food, these traces disappeared from their urine.  Another study showed that morther who eat organic dairy, have more healthy fatty acids in their mothers milk. The Dutch Authority for Food Quality Control finds most pesticide residues in apples,  grapes, mandarins and strawberries. Residues are found in 95% of all Dutch apples, with an average of 4 different pesticides. Organic cultivation does not apply chemical pesticides and is therefore a sensible choice for your child.

More research

A recent study from Newcastle University, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, states that organic food contains more anti-oxidants and lower levels of pesticides. It is said to be the most complete literature study so far.

In 2009, a Dutch study, published by the Louis Bolk Institute and RIKILT, compiled the recent scientific data up to then, and attributed levels or certainty to several claims. The more stars, the more certainty. Some of the results are:

  1. ****: Organic fruits and vegetables contain more bioactive substances such as anti-oxidants.
  2. ***: Organic fruits and vegetables have higher levels of vitamin C.
  3. ***: Organic fruits and vegetables contain less pesticide residues.
  4. ***: Organic dairy products contain higher lever of omega-3 and CLA fatty acids.
  5. ***: There are less antibiotics resistant bacteria in organic pigs and chickens.
  6. **: Organic food may play a rol in protection against alleries and boost the immune system.

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