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Going for a run after work? You can skip the “organic” from the organic chicken breast you will have later

Going for a run after work? You can skip the “organic” from the organic chicken breast you will have later

Most of us know that people who eat a balanced diet, exercise and have disposable income live longer. This may sound unfair to unemployed coach-potatoes but it is a blessing for a multibillion-dollar industry eager to market itself as health’s champion.

The “organics” industry asserts that you should go “organic” because it is the healthier option. If you ask for evidence it will be pointed out that consumers of organic products are healthier. True, they usually are. However, as they are the same people who also eat a balanced diet, exercise, and have disposable income, that claim is rather pointless.

MM559A recent study on 60.773 women from Denmark, the world’s biggest per capita consumer of organic food, confirmed that organic food users have a healthier lifestyle than non-users. Frequent organic food users consumed a more ‘prudent’ diet compared with non-users and had significantly higher intakes of vegetables (167 %), fibre (113 %) and n-3 fatty acids (111 %) and less saturated fat (28 %). The study also found that non-smoker urbanites with higher proficiency jobs are the most likely consumers. This makes direct comparisons of the health benefits of organic food almost impossible.

Big population studies carried out by reputable scientific institutions (see London School of Hygiene and Stanford University) have always failed to find solid evidence for the beneficial effects of organic food consumption once the confounding socioeconomic factors are considered. Health-conscious organic eaters feed on grilled organic chicken and organic lettuce dressed with extra virgin olive oil, not on organic chicken deep fried in extra virgin olive oil, and that is what makes them healthier.

MM561Most laboratory studies designed to avoid real-world confounding factors are also negative regarding the effects of organic food consumption. The few studies that show a positive effect seem to be designed by researchers who carried out their experiments in order to obtain the results that they wanted rather than to find out the truth (see previous post).

Scientific literacy -and also plain common sense- will indicate that there is no reason whatsoever for assuming that organic products are better than conventional ones. And there is no reason to assume that “natural” in general is better neither. A plague of locusts is natural and it is bad. Salmonella is natural and it is bad. Also pain is natural and who will say that it is not bad?

There are not solid arguments against organic products* and as a helpless foreigner aspiring to fit into British society -Prof Pesca-style- I have many reasons for purchasing them and to brag MM562about it -Indeed some times I do**. However, as a scientist committed to the rational pursuit of truth I cannot be complaisant with those who invent pseudoscientific reasons to justify the consumption of any product. You should buy organic if you fancy -like you may fancy a pair of hand-made shoes- but do not feel compelled to purchase organic as a healthier option. Instead eat a balance diet, exercise and -if you can- get a high-proficiency job.

 

* I know some will comment that their use of resources is inefficient or that they promote soil erosion.

** Farmers’ market organic tomatoes taste better. This is because they are hand-picked when they are ripe rather than collected while still green.

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  • Amy Pearson 09/08/2013 at 5:09 am

    I think there is a great distinction between organic foods and GMO foods.

    • Ariel Poliandri 09/08/2013 at 6:06 am

      Indeed

    • Michael Wojahn 13/08/2013 at 10:03 pm

      Explain please.
      Genetically modified means that a product has been in some way modified by people or the environment. There is no plant or animal used by man that has not been modified in some way. Some of the modifications go back thousands of years. Man has taken the random modifications produced by nature and chosen those that he prefers and promotes them.
      Lately Genetic Modification has come to mean that a product has had some gene sifting done in the laboratory. Modern modifications are more precise. What is desired is known before the modification is made. Thus if you want to add carotene to rice to help promote a healthier diet in rice eating areas, you can get it right the first time.
      There is even the case where corn plants were given the ability to produce an organic insecticide to protect themselves. The promise of better foods sooner by using modern genetic modifications has great promise for a better food system in the future.

      • Ariel Poliandri 15/08/2013 at 11:43 am

        Hi Michael,
        I’m not quite sure what would you like me to explain.
        I like clever food (I.e. Genetically Engineered food); For example, see my post “Lets do the evolution”.
        I believe that most GE food these days is engineered for commercial reasons rather than health issues (this doesn’t mean it is bad). Maybe the GE “omega-3 pork” and certainly GE Golden Rice are better for human health than conventional, but there are not many examples right now.
        Anyway, this post dealt with a different subject: the false perception that “organic” food –which is also grown for commercial reasons- is better for human health than “conventional” food.
        Hope this helped

  • menorca 07/08/2013 at 5:10 pm

    I agree with you here. The quality of the over expensive organic food that people buy is a major cause of worry. There are hardly any differences in the nutritional content or the taste, and that is proven by various scientific studies.If someone is so concerned about the conditions that their food is grown in, buying vegetables from the local produce is also not a bad idea.
    I carried out a small survey regarding people’s opinions on organic food, and the two major factors of concern were clearly, the quality and the price.A detailed description is published on my blog too.

    • Ariel Poliandri 08/08/2013 at 5:40 am

      Hey Menorca I read your post. Interesting that you noticed the “Bio” craze in Germany. I have a German friend that will only wear “organic” pyjamas; yes; “organic” pyjamas.
      I think most people believe organic is healthier and you cannot blame them; there are groups profiting from organic (in one way or another) and they are very active stressing unscientific assertions about food.

  • Mary 05/08/2013 at 8:16 pm

    Well this also assumes that “organic” is really organic. Swaddles was selling organic-labeled stuff for years, and it wasn’t anything more that re-wrapped conventional stuff. In the US there was a big fertilizer scandal–stuff that was supposedly grown with organic inputs also wasn’t, for years.

    Hard to know that from survey data.

    • Ariel Poliandri 06/08/2013 at 5:43 am

      Certainly, like any other expensive product “organic” is exposed to fakes.
      Unfortunately it is big surveys or nothing because science cannot be based on anecdotal evidence. It does make sense though that people with high standards of living is healthier (even if only for their ability to pay medical insurance).
      The issue remains that -except in very particular circumstances- there is no scientific reason to think that “organic” or “natural” is better.
      Asserting that organic is better because it is natural is some kind of religious belief outside science. Mother Earth worship is all in fashion these days; but supporting a belief just on those grounds is not different from supporting it with an out-of-fashion Bible.
      Not so long ago “organic” was a perfectly scientific word describing molecules with carbon backbones; to science all food was more or less “organic”. The term was hijacked by people with a “Mother-Nature-knows-better” set of mind and given a completely new definition; allowing a new trend to sound more scientific. But it is all the same; good old fashion superstition.

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