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Study Questions Health Benefits of Eating Organic

Sept. 4, 2012 -- Will eating pricey organic foods make you healthier? Maybe not, a new research review shows.

The review sums up evidence from hundreds of studies of organic foods. It's published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Some of the studies compared organic milk, meats, eggs, and produce to non-organic foods. Those studies measured nutrients in the foods as well as contaminants like pesticides and bacteria. A few studies tried to find health differences between people who ate only organic or only non-organic foods.

After weighing all the evidence, the researchers conclude that organic foods don't appear to have more vitamins or nutrients than non-organic foods.

Non-organic fruits and vegetables were 30% more likely to have pesticides than organic fruits and vegetables. But because it's rare for any produce to exceed pesticide safety limits set by the FDA, researchers say it's not known whether reducing an already small exposure makes a difference.

The review also shows that organic meats are less likely to harbor "superbug" bacteria that are resistant to treatment with antibiotics. But researchers say most antibiotic-resistant infections in people come from misuse of antibiotics, not from eating contaminated foods.

In the end, researchers say there's no evidence that people who stick to organic diets are healthier than people who eat non-organic foods.

Not everyone agrees.

Organic or Not?

"There are many different reasons why people choose organic. They may be concerned about animal welfare or the environment. They may do it for taste," says researcher Crystal Smith-Spangler, MD, of Stanford University in California. "I didn't find that nutrition is a major reason to choose organic foods."

Nutrition experts praised the research since it helps to dispel some myths that might make people afraid to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.

"When we're talking about organic, it's really the process, not the product. The process of organic farming is different than conventional farming, but that doesn't mean that the food is bad or unsafe," says Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, MS, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Dobbins points out that organic foods can cost twice as much as non-organic foods.

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