by Marion Nestle
Jul 14 2014

Are organic foods more nutritious? And is this the right question?

I received a press release last week announcing the release of a new meta-analysis of more than 300 studies comparing organically produced foods to those produced conventionally.  The results show that organic foods have:

  • Less pesticides: this is to be expected as they are not used in organic production.
  • Less cadmium: this also is to be expected as sewage sludge, a probable source of cadmium, is not permitted in organic production.
  • More antioxidants: this is news because some previous studies did not find higher levels of nutrients in organic foods.

I was interviewed by the New York Times about this study:

Even with the differences and the indications that some antioxidants are beneficial, nutrition experts said the “So what?” question had yet to be answered.

“After that, everything is speculative,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “It’s a really hard question to answer.”

Dr. Nestle said she buys organic foods, because she believes they are better for the environment and wants to avoid pesticides. “If they are also more nutritious, that’s a bonus,” she said. “How significant a bonus? Hard to say.”

She continued: “There is no reason to think that organic foods would be less nutritious than conventional industrial crops. Some studies in the past have found them to have more of some nutrients. Other studies have not. This one looked at more studies and has better statistics.”

Two additional comments:

1. The study is not independently funded.   One of the funders is identified as the Sheepdrove Trust, which funds research in support of organic and sustainable farming.

This study is another example of how the outcome of sponsored research invariably favors the sponsor’s interests.  The paper says “the  Trust  had  no  influence  on  the  design  and management of the  research  project  and  the  preparation  of publications  from the project,” but that’s exactly studies funded by Coca-Cola say.  It’s an amazing coincidence how the results of sponsored studies almost invariably favor the sponsor’s interests.  And that’s true of results I like just as it is of results that I don’t like.

2.  The purpose of the study is questionable.  The rationale for the study is “Demand for organic foods is partially driven by consumers’ perceptions that they are more nutritious.”  The implication here is that research must prove organics more nutritious in order to market them.  But most people who buy organics do so because they understand that organics are about production values.  As I said, if they are more nutritious, it’s a bonus, but there are plenty of other good reasons to prefer them.

Organic food 120714 WEB

Other resources:


  • Janey
  • July 28, 2014
  • 5:18 pm

I don’t want to waste your time. Which aspects of organic farming did you particularly want to discuss?

[…] Are organic foods more nutritious? via Marion Nestle […]

  • Jessie
  • August 16, 2014
  • 1:04 am

Aside from the fact that organic foods are safe to one’s health, it is also safe to the environment. This is the most important thing here. I bet most will agree to your infograph pertaining to the percentage of why people chose organic. This representation answers the question.

[…] Though the nutrition facts panel gives us a hard number for each vitamin and nutrient (e.g., X milligrams of vitamin C in an orange), there is actually a wide variety in the amount of nutrients that are present in each piece of produce. The variability can be due to the soil it is grown in, the ripeness of the fruit or vegetable when it is harvested, how long it is stored before you eat it, or your cooking method. There is some evidence that food that is grown using organic methods may have higher nutrient content, but the jury is still out on that. […]

[…] Are organic foods more nutritious […]

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