Alison is a registered dietitian, board-certified in oncology nutrition, and a cancer thriver. Her expertise in oncology nutrition and personal experience with her own cancer diagnosis and its treatment provide her with the unique perspective of being able to relate to her clients on an entirely different level. Her content is consistently focused on evidence-based guidelines and seeks to increase the awareness of the power of nutrition to complement traditional cancer therapies.
We commonly get two questions when it relates to organic foods:
Let’s first focus on answering if organic foods are healthier than conventionally grown foods. We’ll cover the second question regarding the safety of organic foods in next week’s blog post.
What Does the Research Say?
Many used to believe organic foods had higher vitamin and mineral contents. However, a systematic review of 223 studies found there was no significant difference in vitamin and mineral content between organic and conventional plant or animal products. (1)
However, a significant difference was found among polyphenolic phytonutrients — some of the best disease fighting properties. Between the 223 studies, they reported 19-69% higher levels of phytonutrients in organic foods compared to conventional foods. (2) While this is a large range, the consensus reported MORE phytonutrients.
Research has not identified why organic foods contain higher amounts of these disease fighting benefits but there are theories. A common theory is that conventionally grown foods do not need to have as strong of a defense system because herbicides and insecticides externally protect the plant. Therefore, conventionally grown plants do not need the coveted disease fighting nutrients that also help prevent disease within the plant.
What about Cancer Fighting Benefits?
It is important to note no clinical studies (studies on humans) have been conducted on the cancer fighting benefits of organic versus conventionally grown foods. However, there have been studies performed in petri-dishes worth considering.
Organic foods were found to have higher anti-mutagenic activity, or essentially cancer fighting properties. (3)
But what about human cancer cells?
Organic strawberries were able to suppress (or reduce) both colon and breast cancer cells better than conventional strawberries. (4) Again, keep in mind these studies were performed in a petri dish.
What Should We Do?
When it comes to the potential health benefits of organic foods, I believe there are a few considerations to take into account (and there are more beyond these few).
Depending on where you live, organic foods may not be widely available — especially in more rural areas.
Organic foods are roughly 40% more expensive, increasing your grocery bill significantly. Many of us cannot afford to consume all organic foods (or even some).
Just Eat More Plants
Just like all of our blog posts, our information is designed to be informational to help you make the best decision for you and your family.
You may choose to consume organic foods as much as possible by applying what is called the ‘precautionary principle’. Meaning, although there is no conclusive evidence organic foods are more cancer-fighting in humans (as benefits are shown in petri dishes on human cells), you choose to eat organic foods due to potential benefits.
In the end, we encourage the consumption of more whole, unprocessed plant-foods whether they are organic or conventional since research concludes the consumption of these foods decreases cancer and chronic disease risk because of fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc. .
Our motto remains the same as always — eat.more.plants
Want more bang for your buck when buying organic?
Download the Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen PDF
1. C Smith-Spangler, M L Brandeau, G E Hunter, J C Bavinger, M Pearson, P J Eschbach, V Sundaram, H Liu, P Schirmer, C Stave, I Oikin, D M Bravata Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: a systematic review. Ann Intern Med. 2012 Sep 4;157(5):348-66.
2. M Baranski, D Srednicka-Tober, N Volakakis, C Seal, R Sanderson, G B Stweard, C Benbrook B Biavati and More. Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. Br J Nutr. 2014 Sep 14;112(5):794-811.
3. H Ren, H Endo, T Hayashi. Antioxidative and antimutagenic activities and polyphenol content of pesticide-free and organically cultivated green vegetables using water-soluble chitosan as a soil modifier and leaf surface spray. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Vol 81 Issue 15 Dec 2001.
4. M E Olsson, C S Andersson, S Oresson, R H Berglund, K E Gustavsson. Antioxidant levels and inhibition of cancer cell proliferation in vitro by extracts from organically and conventionally cultivated strawberries. J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Feb 22;54(4):1248-55.
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