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Nutrient Density of Organic Food: Truth or Fallacy

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Organic food is the popular alternative to the current production of food available in the marketplace. Government statistics continue to indicate the increase in market share. There are several reasons for this trend. The two most common are based on health and quality. It is perceived that production methods of organic food results in foods and products that are higher in quality and denser in nutrients. This begs two basic questions:

  1. How are organic products produced?
  2. What is nutrient density?

In understanding the produce and the specific terminology we can make a decision on whether organic food is actually more nutrient dense than commercial and/or nonorganic food.

How are Organic Products produced?

Organic products are the result of farming practices that respect the land. The producers do not believe in applying or using any type of chemicals that may result in damaging the earth and/or causing health risks. Furthermore, organic farming is also a matter of ethics. Its intent is to respect the earth, and all living creatures. They are not to be considered as mere commodities. As a result, organic farming and/or production methods involve:

  • No pesticides
  • No herbicides
  • No factory farm practice i.e. no large-scale manufacturing-like production methods including forced feeding and inhumane cages
  • Land rotation and specific planting methods
  • No use of genetically modified (GM) seeds or animals

It is believed that producing in this way is more beneficial to everybody.

What is Nutrient Density?

Nutrient density is a term that relates specifically to the amount of nutrients in a food with reference to how much can be derived from this characteristic. The food contains a certain amount of nutrients. You eat the food and it will cost you a specific sum. This is usually caloric amount. In other words, a nutrient dense food provides you with the most nutritional value with the least amount of calories.

What Foods, Organic or Nonorganic, are Nutrient Dense?

If you are on a weight loss program, you need to seriously consider foods that are nutrient dense. In this way, you fulfill your nutritional needs without consuming too many calories. Whether organic or not, within their category, you need to know the basic nutrient density of these foods.

  • Having the highest nutrient density are fresh vegetables. These, above all others, organic or not, are high in nutrients and low in calories
  • Next on the list are fresh fruits. At the top of the list are strawberries. Those who choose to eat a lot of strawberries need to be aware of the high levels of pesticides used to produce this fruit as well as the fruit’s ability to absorb it
  • Whole grains are down lower on the nutrient calorie ratio. They increase in nutrients if additional nutrients are artificially added and the grains are refined
  • Dairy foods are low on the scale
  • Meat or seafood rank the lowest

Research on Nutrient Density in Organic Food

There is no definitive research on nutrient content and, therefore, density of organic versus nonorganic foods. Whenever research is printed to support the former’s higher levels of nutrients i.e. nutrient density, there is sure to follow research that negates these or deconstructs these findings. In essence, the research falls into three basic camps:

  1. Supporters of the belief that organic food having high nutrient density
  2. Those who say this is not so that and there is no significant or even any difference
  3. Those who say it is too soon to tell

The first group provides data on the higher amounts found in such things as organic strawberries, carrots and other earthy fruits and vegetables. These include Lairon (2009) who noted what he terms as the higher qualities of these agricultural systems1. Meanwhile, the second group accuses these “proponents of organic food” of being definitely biased, using shoddy and unscientific methods, omitting contrary results and having too small samples to be scientific. A well-known proponent for this perspective is Rosen (2010)2. His research and overview of studies finds little if anything to prove the higher nutrient density of organic foods let alone improved quality.

The final group is probably the less biased. They compile the data and declare that the mixed results indicate two things:

  • The complexity of the issue
  • The need for future and further research in various areas3

Perhaps, research performed in 1997 best sums up the issue. They looked at over 150 studies and determined that in some cases the nutrient levels were not higher while in others they were unclear and often contradictory4. One thing is for certain though – organic foods do not contain pesticides and that fact alone can make them healthier than their nonorganic counterparts.

Conclusion

Whether you choose organic food for its health benefits or out of concern for the environment, you need to choose wisely. Be a smart consumer. Whatever research you accept as valid, remember to always read labels to determine the nature of your food. Select food that is high in the right type of nutrients for your diet or weight loss program. Cut down on unnecessary additives such as salt, sugar and saturated fats. Watch the empty calories and avoid them whenever possible. The same goes for those unknown or questionable ingredients and extra packaging. Be aware of what pesticides do the environment. Be a good steward of the land and for your children, relatives and neighbors no matter what your personal preference for organic or nonorganic food.



References  

1 Lairon, D (2009).  Nutritional Quality and Safety of Organic Food: A Review.

Agronomy For Sustainable Development, 30(1): 33-41.

2 Rosen, JD (2010). A Review of the Nutrition Claims Made by Proponents of Organic Food.  Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 9(3): 270–277.

3 Magkos, F; Fotini Arvaniti, F; and Zampelas, A (2003). Organic Food: Nutritious Food or Food for Thought? A Review of the Evidence. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 54(5): 357-371.

4 Winter, C. K, & Davis, S. F. (2006). Organic Foods. Journal of Food Science, 71, R117-R124.

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