Organic Foods Have No Health Benefits and More News

Organic Foods Have No Health Benefits and More News

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In today's Media Mix, an in-depth look at the success behind Eleven Madison Park, plus how much power does Yelp have?

Arthur Bovino

The Daily Meal brings you the biggest news from the food world.

Organic Not Necessarily Healthier: A study has found that while organic food may have less pesticides, there isn't any nutritional edge to eating the pricey stuff. (Personally, we just think it tastes better). [USA Today]

Apparently a Half-Star on Yelp Is a Big Deal: Researchers discovered that losing or gaining a half-star on Yelp can actually make or break a restaurant. Yikes. Well-known restaurants and celebrity restaurants are exempt. [Eater]

History of Eleven Madison Park: New Yorker subscribers can read all about how Eleven Madison Park reached its peak; also, there's info about their new menu. [New Yorker]

Bourdain Hangs Out with Rock Stars: Remember when he got a tattoo with Sleigh Bells? Well, Anthony Bourdain also got Neon Indian on his show. [AV Club]

Taiwanese Food in Taipei: What is the best food in Taipei? Xiao long bao (soup dumplings), beef noodle soup, and so much more. [NY Times]

9 Amazing Benefits of Organic Food

Organic food is extremely popular and everyone wants to know about its benefits. The sweeping public opinion that organic food is healthier than conventional food is quite strong and is the main reason for the increase in its demand over the past 5-6 years. Organic Facts is a strong proponent of organic food however, this website also believes in putting across the most accurate facts to its visitors.

This article will explain what organic food is, how it is beneficial, and what are the standards for the same. This is to substantiate that organic food is good for health. [1]

No Health Benefits from Organic Food

A recent review of 240 studies has concluded that:

The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Organic produce has become increasingly popular in recent years. There are several reasons that consumers might prefer organic produce, including the belief that organic farming is better for the environment and more sustainable. I am going to focus in this article about the health effects of organic produce. Environmental claims for organic farming are complex and controversial – I will just say that such claims largely fall prey to the naturalistic and false dichotomy fallacies. In my opinion, farming practices should be evaluated on their own merits individually, based on evidence rather than philosophy. Sustainable and environmentally friendly farming are certainly laudable goals and I support farming practices promote them, however they are labeled.

The alleged superiority of organically grown produce is a separate question. In a 2003 survey 68.9% of people who purchase organic food said they did so because they believed it to be healthier (more than any other reason given). However, fifty years of research has so far not produced convincing evidence that there is any health benefit to consuming organic food. Likewise, systematic reviews of nutritional quality of organic produce also reveals no difference from conventional produce.

The recent review is therefore in agreement with previous reviews – organic produce is not more nutritious or healthful, but it is more expensive.

Some studies that find small differences in the content of specific nutrients may be due to confounding factors. For example, organic produce is generally smaller than conventional produce, so if nutrient content is measured by mass (as opposed to the total for an individual vegetable or piece of fruit) organic produce may have a slightly higher concentration. This does not necessarily translate to more overall nutrients for the consumer. Further, many studies measure multiple endpoints (nutrients) and find some differences, but may not be properly accounting for multiple analyses. The researchers in the recent study found that results were “heterogeneous” – meaning that there were significant differences in outcome among the studies. This could indicate a lack of replicability of specific outcomes, indicating that differences were more artifacts of method rather than genuine.

One type of study that I have not seen is essentially the equivalent of an “intention to treat” analysis – what is the impact of buying organic food in the real world. Even if there are tiny nutritional advantages to organic food (although to be clear this conclusion is not supported by the evidence), is there an overall nutritional advantage to eating organic? Does the higher price mean that for many consumers fewer overall fresh produce will be consumed?

The recent review did find that organic produce had fewer pesticide residues than conventional farming. However, there is no evidence that these low levels of pesticides present any health risk. The review found:

The risk for contamination with detectable pesticide residues was lower among organic than conventional produce (risk difference, 30% [CI, −37% to −23%]), but differences in risk for exceeding maximum allowed limits were small.

So while there was a difference, this did not result in a significant difference in terms of exceeding safe limits. Further, studies looking at health outcomes did not find any significant difference between consuming organic vs conventional produce. These studies are limited in number and duration, however. Further, there may be a bias in how these studies are performed. Organic farming does use pesticides, but only “natural” pesticides are allowed. There is little to no evidence that these organic pesticides are less harmful for consumers or the environment. It is just assumed that they are based upon the naturalistic fallacy.

Even if we take the most pro-organic assumption – that there are more pesticides on conventional produce and that those pesticides have greater negative health effects than organic pesticides, it must still be recognized that simply washing fruits and vegetables effectively reduces pesticide residue. If minimized exposure to pesticide residue is your goal, thoroughly washing your produce is probably the easiest and cheapest way to achieve that end.

Differences in bacterial contamination were similar. There were no differences seen in E. coli contamination. There was a 33% greater chance of isolated a multi-antibiotic resistance bacteria on conventional produce, but no evidence this translates into a health risk. Again – even if we assume a difference in health risk (something not demonstrated by the data) this can be remedied by thorough washing.

The recent review of organic vs conventional produce agrees with previous systematic reviews that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that organic produce is healthier or more nutritious that conventional produce. Despite the scientific evidence, the alleged health benefits of organic produce is the number one reason given by consumers for buying organic. This likely represents the triumph of marketing over scientific reality.

Qualifications for Organic Meat

USDA-certified organic livestock production follows its own set of rules. This includes:

  • No use of growth hormones or antibiotics in cows, chicken, pigs, or other animals.
  • Animals are not fed with animal by-products, like fat, flesh, and blood from animals. The animals only eat organic feed or graze on natural grasses.
  • Animals raised for meat, eggs, and milk are provided access to outdoor space for fresh air, exercise, shade, shelter, and clean drinking water.
  • The livestock are raised on certified organic land meeting all organic crop production standards.

10 to 100 times fewer pesticide residues

The researchers also found pesticide residues were three to four times more likely in conventional foods than organic ones, as organic farmers are not allowed to apply toxic, synthetic pesticides. While crops harvested from organically managed fields sometimes contain pesticide residues, the levels are usually 10-fold to 100-fold lower in organic food, compared to the corresponding, conventionally grown food.

“This study is telling a powerful story of how organic plant-based foods are nutritionally superior and deliver bona fide health benefits,” said Benbrook.

In a surprising finding, the team concluded that conventional crops had roughly twice as much cadmium, a toxic heavy metal contaminant, as organic crops. The leading explanation is that certain fertilizers approved for use only on conventional farms somehow make cadmium more available to plant roots. A doubling of cadmium from food could push some individuals over safe daily intake levels.

What You Need to Know About Organic Food

by Mark Bittman and David L. Katz, AARP, March 3, 2020 | Comments: 0

Keith Brofsky/Getty Images

En español | Does any old apple a day keep the doctor away? Or does it have to be organic? The answer is, honestly, “That's impossible to say right now.”

Why is that? First of all, almost nobody eats purely organic versus purely nonorganic, so it's impossible to divide people into two groups for comparison. There's an overlap, and when two groups that are supposed to be different are a bit alike, their outcomes look more like one another.

So there's no evidence that organic foods are better for you? We didn't say that. There is a burgeoning array of large observational studies that look at people who reported willfully eating organic routinely versus people who didn't. As of this writing, the most recent study is out of France, where researchers found a significant difference in cancer incidence between those who eat organic routinely versus those who don't. (Those people who ate organic most often had the least cancer, as you'd expect.)

Well, doesn't that mean that organic is better after all, if it keeps you from getting cancer? The study really isn't conclusive, though.

Aaargh. Why not? Maybe what makes the two groups different is the total level of care they take with their health. It could be that all those people eating organic have access to better medical care, more cash to spend, higher quality of life — that kind of thing. Generally, organic food costs more, which means more well-to-do people — those with better health care and usually better living situations — are more likely to be the ones eating better. So we still don't know for sure. But at least, for the first time, we have a strong association between routine consumption of organic food and an important health outcome.

If I'm looking at organic and nonorganic apples side by side at a store and I can't afford the organic ones, what should I do? A nonorganic apple is better than no apple and better than most other choices. Rinsing conventionally grown produce reduces the pesticide residue and so arguably narrows the difference between organic and not organic. So, yes, get the nonorganic apples and wash them well. It's almost safe to say, “Never pass up an apple.”

What about trying to eat locally? "Locavore” is a relatively new term but an ancient way of eating. Locavores eat — or try to eat — food produced locally, although, of course, the word “local” is pretty vague. Before food was shipped, everyone was a locavore. Now the term has come to have a deeper meaning: that what you eat matters to your health, and the quality and composition of what you eat are in turn determined by how the food is raised, what it's fed and where it's from.

Why is it worth spending extra time and, usually, money to eat locally? Reducing the carbon footprint, supporting local economies, eating seasonally (and fresh), knowing where your food comes from and how it was raised … all these are inarguably positive attributes, and all are characteristics of local food. No one but a fanatic could eat only local food, but concentrating on these attributes would mean you were eating better, more ethically, more sustainably. If you know your produce is being grown on a local farm where chemicals are not being used, you know that you are avoiding those chemicals. If you know the soil is being nurtured appropriately, you know it's rich in nutrients. If your food has not been in storage and transit for days or weeks, it will have much more of its native nutrient content when you eat it.

Don't Panic, Eat Organic

Since 2004, the Environmental Working Group has been publishing the Dirty Dozen, its annual list of fruits and vegetables most likely to contain pesticide residue, even after being washed. If you're choosing to buy some organic produce, these are the ones to prioritize.

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

So local sourcing means the foods have better nutrient composition? In general, yes though if you're sourcing industrially produced corn locally, then probably not. It makes sense that agriculture and health are connected — there's no way around it. So the more you know about how and where plants are grown, the more confident you can be about their nutrient quality.

Does soil composition affect animal products, too? Oh yeah. This issue is even more important when you consider animal foods. The nutrient composition of meat is substantially connected with the diet and exercise pattern of the animal. Meat is leaner and has less saturated fat when animals get more exercise, for instance. The composition of meat also varies with what animals eat and the nutrients in those plants, which are in turn influenced by the soil.

Healthy, nutritious soil means healthy, nutritious meat? When animals graze on grass, as opposed to grains, they keep the soil healthy and produce better meat. And pasture-raised animals may have lower risks of industrial foodborne scourges like E. coli O157:H7, a strain that can cause severe infection and even kidney failure. It came from the intestines of cattle, particularly those that were fed grain rather than grass! So if animal rights and environmentalist arguments don't motivate you to eat local, remember that it also matters to your personal health.

Having said that, it is, of course, possible to produce bad or nutritionally deficient food locally. But a main advantage of sourcing locally is that you can see or learn about the production of your food and easily make that judgment. It's also pretty safe to say that a locavore diet does not include nationally distributed food products made in a factory somewhere, which pretty much means it excludes junk food.

Does that mean locavores can eat whatever they want? Grass-fed burgers and locally produced cheese all day! Not exactly. It's still important to have a plant-predominant diet, along with balance and variety.

Little evidence of health benefits from organic foods, study finds

Norbert von der Groeben

Crystal Smith-Spangler and her colleagues reviewed many of the studies comparing organic and conventionally grown food, and found little evidence that organic foods are more nutritious.

You’re in the supermarket eyeing a basket of sweet, juicy plums. You reach for the conventionally grown stone fruit, then decide to spring the extra $1/pound for its organic cousin. You figure you’ve just made the healthier decision by choosing the organic product — but new findings from Stanford University cast some doubt on your thinking.

“There isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health,” said Dena Bravata, MD, MS, the senior author of a paper comparing the nutrition of organic and non-organic foods, published in the Sept. 4 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

A team led by Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy, and Crystal Smith-Spangler, MD, MS, an instructor in the school’s Division of General Medical Disciplines and a physician-investigator at VA Palo Alto Health Care System, did the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date of existing studies comparing organic and conventional foods. They did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives, though consumption of organic foods can reduce the risk of pesticide exposure.

The popularity of organic products, which are generally grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers or routine use of antibiotics or growth hormones, is skyrocketing in the United States. Between 1997 and 2011, U.S. sales of organic foods increased from $3.6 billion to $24.4 billion, and many consumers are willing to pay a premium for these products. Organic foods are often twice as expensive as their conventionally grown counterparts.

Although there is a common perception — perhaps based on price alone — that organic foods are better for you than non-organic ones, it remains an open question as to the health benefits. In fact, the Stanford study stemmed from Bravata’s patients asking her again and again about the benefits of organic products. She didn’t know how to advise them.

So Bravata, who is also chief medical officer at the health-care transparency company Castlight Health, did a literature search, uncovering what she called a “confusing body of studies, including some that were not very rigorous, appearing in trade publications.” There wasn’t a comprehensive synthesis of the evidence that included both benefits and harms, she said.

“This was a ripe area in which to do a systematic review,” said first author Smith-Spangler, who jumped on board to conduct the meta-analysis with Bravata and other Stanford colleagues.

For their study, the researchers sifted through thousands of papers and identified 237 of the most relevant to analyze. Those included 17 studies (six of which were randomized clinical trials) of populations consuming organic and conventional diets, and 223 studies that compared either the nutrient levels or the bacterial, fungal or pesticide contamination of various products (fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, milk, poultry, and eggs) grown organically and conventionally. There were no long-term studies of health outcomes of people consuming organic versus conventionally produced food the duration of the studies involving human subjects ranged from two days to two years.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods. No consistent differences were seen in the vitamin content of organic products, and only one nutrient — phosphorus — was significantly higher in organic versus conventionally grown produce (and the researchers note that because few people have phosphorous deficiency, this has little clinical significance). There was also no difference in protein or fat content between organic and conventional milk, though evidence from a limited number of studies suggested that organic milk may contain significantly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

The researchers were also unable to identify specific fruits and vegetables for which organic appeared the consistently healthier choice, despite running what Bravata called “tons of analyses.”

“Some believe that organic food is always healthier and more nutritious,” said Smith-Spangler, who is also an instructor of medicine at the School of Medicine. “We were a little surprised that we didn’t find that.”

The review yielded scant evidence that conventional foods posed greater health risks than organic products. While researchers found that organic produce had a 30 percent lower risk of pesticide contamination than conventional fruits and vegetables, organic foods are not necessarily 100 percent free of pesticides. What’s more, as the researchers noted, the pesticide levels of all foods generally fell within the allowable safety limits. Two studies of children consuming organic and conventional diets did find lower levels of pesticide residues in the urine of children on organic diets, though the significance of these findings on child health is unclear. Additionally, organic chicken and pork appeared to reduce exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but the clinical significance of this is also unclear.

As for what the findings mean for consumers, the researchers said their aim is to educate people, not to discourage them from making organic purchases. “If you look beyond health effects, there are plenty of other reasons to buy organic instead of conventional,” noted Bravata. She listed taste preferences and concerns about the effects of conventional farming practices on the environment and animal welfare as some of the reasons people choose organic products.

“Our goal was to shed light on what the evidence is,” said Smith-Spangler. “This is information that people can use to make their own decisions based on their level of concern about pesticides, their budget and other considerations.”

She also said that people should aim for healthier diets overall. She emphasized the importance of eating of fruits and vegetables, “however they are grown,” noting that most Americans don’t consume the recommended amount.

In discussing limitations of their work, the researchers noted the heterogeneity of the studies they reviewed due to differences in testing methods physical factors affecting the food, such as weather and soil type and great variation among organic farming methods. With regard to the latter, there may be specific organic practices (for example, the way that manure fertilizer, a risk for bacterial contamination, is used and handled) that could yield a safer product of higher nutritional quality.

“What I learned is there’s a lot of variation between farming practices,” said Smith-Spangler. “It appears there are a lot of different factors that are important in predicting nutritional quality and harms.”

Other Stanford co-authors are Margaret Brandeau, PhD, the Coleman F. Fung Professor in the School of Engineering medical students Grace Hunter, J. Clay Bavinger and Maren Pearson research assistant Paul Eschbach Vandana Sundaram, MPH, assistant director for research at CHP/PCOR Hau Liu, MD, MBA, clinical assistant professor of medicine at Stanford and senior director at Castlight Health Patricia Schirmer, MD, infectious disease physician with the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System medical librarian Christopher Stave, MLS and Ingram Olkin, PhD, professor emeritus of statistics and of education. The authors received no external funding for this study.

Most Read

In a review of thousands of papers, the researchers found that there was also no guarantee organic food would be pesticide-free, though it did have 30 percent lower levels compared to conventional products. Yet despite this, the review yielded scant evidence that conventional foods posed greater health risks than organic products. In addition, the researchers found that the pesticide levels of all foods generally fell within the allowable safety limits. Two studies of children consuming organic and conventional diets did find lower levels of pesticide residues in the urine of children on organic diets, though the significance of these findings on child health is unclear, noted the researchers.

The results of the study -- the largest review of its kind comparing organic to conventional foods -- were published September 4 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

"Some believe that organic food is always healthier and more nutritious," states co-researcher Crystal Smith-Spangler at Stanford's School of Medicine. "We were a little surprised that we didn't find that."

A separate new study from Oxford University in the UK found that organic farming may not be better for the environment either. The researchers cited that organic products such as milk, cereals, and pork generate higher greenhouse gas emissions than their conventional counterparts. However, organic beef produced lower emissions. That study was published online September 4 in the Journal of Environmental Management.

How Do You Enjoy the Legume? You Don’t Eat the Edamame Pods — Just the Beans Inside

As a snack, edamame is typically baked. But beforehand, be sure to rinse the bean pods well before eating, to wash away any residues from the growing and harvesting process. To eat edamame, apply a small amount of pressure to the bean pod, and gently squeeze out the beans. When enjoying as a side dish, simply add a bit of sea salt to bring out the flavors, if your diet allows. (1)

Edamame is also extremely versatile when it comes to cooking. You can boil, steam, or even microwave them in a small amount of water. The edamame cooks fast, so you don’t need to spend a lot of time cooking them — a 1-cup serving takes less than 1 minute to cook in the microwave with 1 teaspoon of water. Boiling or steaming takes an average of 4 to 7 minutes. (1)

You can also blanch and freeze fresh edamame to save for later. When stored this way, the edamame can last for up to eight months. (1) Prepackaged frozen edamame is also available at your grocery store for convenience.

Organic food certification

Organic farms are only certified after they have been operating according to organic principles for three years. However, the use of the word ‘organic’ is not regulated in Australia, so it is important to make sure that products you buy come from certified growers and producers.

Before 2009, a standard (guidelines and rules) did not exist for domestic and imported organic foods. This led to a misrepresentation of the word ‘organic’ in the Australian domestic food market.

Two key standards now govern the production, processing and labelling of organic food in Australia. These are:

  • The National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce (for exported foods)
  • The Australian Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Products (for domestic and imported foods).

These standards provide an agreed set of procedures to be followed in organic food production. This helps to ensure the integrity and traceability of an organic food product from ‘paddock to plate’. The standards include requirements for production, preparation, transportation, marketing and labelling of organic products in Australia.

While it is mandatory for exported organic produce to be certified and meet the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce, the Australian standard (for domestic and imported foods) is not mandated, and certification is voluntary. Its purpose is to assist the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to ensure claims made about organic and biodynamic products are not false or misleading.

‘Organic-certified produce’ means the food was grown, harvested, stored and transported without the use of synthetic chemicals, irradiation or fumigants.

How to identify food certified as organic

Suggestions for making sure the food you are buying is organically grown include:

  • If you are buying from an organic retailer – check for the Organic Retailers’ and Growers’ Association of Australia (ORGAA) notice, which should be prominently displayed.
  • Choose foods with the label – ‘certified organic’ from one of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE)accredited certifying organisations.
  • Check packaging for the grower’s name and certification number.
  • Do not be fooled by packaging that claims the produce is ‘natural’ or ‘chemical free’ if the proper certification labelling is not displayed.

Accredited certifying organisations

Seven organisations are classified by the Australian government as organic certifiers:

Some certifying organisations have their own standards in addition to the National Standard.