Organic food: Is it safer or more nutritious?

Some data shows possible health benefits of organic foods when compared with foods grown using the usual (conventional) process. These studies have shown differences in the food. But there is limited information to prove how these differences can give potential overall health benefits.

Potential benefits include the following:

  • Nutrients. Studies have shown small to moderate increases in some nutrients in organic produce. Organic produce may have more of certain antioxidants and types of flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. The feeding requirements for organic farm animals (livestock) usually cause higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. These include feeding cattle grass and alfalfa. Omega-3 fatty acids — a kind of fat — are more heart healthy than other fats. These higher omega-3 fatty acids are found in organic meats, dairy and eggs.
  • Toxic metal. Cadmium is a toxic chemical naturally found in soils and absorbed by plants. Studies have shown much lower cadmium levels in organic grains, but not fruits and vegetables, when compared with crops grown using usual (conventional) methods. The lower cadmium levels in organic grains may be related to the ban on synthetic fertilizers in organic farming.
  • Pesticide residue. Compared with produce grown using usual (conventional) methods, organically grown produce has lower levels of pesticide residue. The safety rules for the highest levels of residue allowed on conventional produce have changed. In many cases, the levels have been lowered. Organic produce may have residue because of pesticides approved for organic farming or because of airborne pesticides from conventional farms.
  • Bacteria. Meats produced using usual (conventional) methods may have higher amounts of dangerous types of bacteria that may not be able to be treated with antibiotics. The overall risk of contamination of organic foods with bacteria is the same as conventional foods.
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