Health Benefits of Organic Food
Throughout the world there is an increasing interest in organic agriculture for food production. Key reasons for this are that organic food often has greater nutritional value and fewer toxic chemicals.
One mechanism for the higher nutrient content of organic crops is that plants grown organically are exposed to insects and other potentially wounding components which lead to the plants producing higher levels of phytochemicals as a protective mechanism (1). When we consume the plants these phytochemicals have a protective effect on us as well. Conventionally farmed crops are treated with pesticides meaning the plants do not need to develop resilience in the same way.
There are many variables when it comes to the nutrient content of food but there are some clear trends in terms of nutrient content and health benefits of organic food. Here’s what the research shows:
Nutrient Content of Organic Food
- Organic meat and dairy products have a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids compared to conventional products (2). This is because organically raised animals eat a largely grass-based diet rather than a grain based diet.
- Organic production uses less antibiotics. The prevalence of antibiotic use in conventional animal production is a key driver of antibiotic resistance in society (2).
- Organic foods provide greater levels of vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus than non-organic varieties (3).
- Organic plant foods typically provide greater levels of antioxidant phytochemicals including polyphenols, anthocyanins, flavonoids, carotenoids and vitamin C (2,3,4).
- Organic foods are significantly lower in nitrates, pesticide residues and heavy metals such as cadmium, than conventionally produced foods (2,3,5).
Organic Food and Health
The lower toxic residues and higher antioxidant and nutrient content of organic foods leads to positive effects on health (4). Here is what the research says about the health benefits of eating organic food:
- Organic food consumption may reduce the risk of allergic disease (2).
- Epidemiological studies have reported adverse effects from certain pesticides on children’s cognitive development at current levels of exposure (2).
- Consumption of organic dairy products reduces the incidence of eczema and allergic dermatitis in infants (3,4).
- Regular consumption of organic food reduces the risk of overweight and obesity, for women and men (4).
- Eating organic reduces the chance of getting non-Hodgkin lymphoma in women (4).
- Consumption of organic fruits and vegetables significantly reduces the risk of pre-eclampsia in pregnancy (4).
Animal studies and in vitro studies show a clear indication of a beneficial effect on health of organic food as compared to conventional ones (5).
Healthy Planet, Healthy People
And it’s not just about human health. If you’re looking for ways to reduce your impact on the environment through dietary change, it’s important to consider not just what you’re eating, but how it’s grown and where it comes from.
Along with eating more seasonally and locally, eating organic food has a crucial role to play in preserving our planet’s soils, capturing carbon from the atmosphere, and reducing polluting farming practices that have a detrimental impact on wildlife.
1. Sci Rep. 2019 Dec 17;9(1):19239. Solving the controversy of healthier organic fruit: Leaf wounding triggers distant gene expression response of polyphenol biosynthesis in strawberry fruit (Fragaria x ananassa). Ibanez F et al.
2. Environ Health. 2017 Oct 27;16(1):111. Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture: a comprehensive review. Mie A et al.
3. Altern Med Rev. 2010 Apr;15(1):4-12. Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer. Crinnion WJ.
4. Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 2020;71(2):131-136. Organic food and health. Glibowski P.
5. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Apr 8;11(4):3870-93. Contribution of organically grown crops to human health. Johansson E et al.