Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Organic food & health

Recently, I popped down to my local organic fresh produce market to see friends Murray and Pam who run the Oranje Tractor organic winery (see pic). Their website [http://members.iinet.net.au/~oranjetractor/] tells you why they spell oranje with a “j”. I grabbed six bottles of their excellent drop and some fruit and bread.

Is the organic food I bought more nutritious? You can bet that most people shopping there believe so, yet we cannot make that assumption. I know I have commented on this before [http://glenn-glenncardwell.blogspot.com/2009_08_01_archive.html], but a new paper suggests there may be no health benefit to buying organic either.

No antioxidant benefit

The review by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine could find only 12 good quality scientific papers that compared the potential health benefits of organic and conventionally grown produce. Half of the studies looked at the antioxidant activity of produce and the maximum number in any study was only 43 subjects. There was no strong evidence that organic foods boosted antioxidant activity in the blood beyond what would be expected. Even if it did, that doesn’t necessarily translate into less disease or a longer life.

Better studies needed

It is clear that if we are ever to see a health benefit between conventionally grown and organic produce then we need better designed studies in more people for longer periods. Who would provide the funding? The government might argue it is not worth it until we get more than 1 in 10 adults eating enough fruit and veg of any type. Organic produce farmers may not foot the bill because (a) we are talking millions of dollars, and (b) there may be no obvious long-term benefit to health, hence all those funds will be “wasted”.

What does it all mean?

The term “organic” refers to the growing conditions only. Choose local organically grown produce if it suits your budget, just don’t try and read too many personal health benefits into the label, except maybe the pleasure of supporting local farmers like Pam and Murray and being a part of a rapidly growing section of fresh produce sales. Personally, I feel particularly up-healthed after a glass of organically produced shiraz.

Reference: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010; 92: 203-210

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