In the United States, organic food consumption is one of the fastest growing segments of the economy. According to Crinnion (2010), the sales of organic foods have multiplied from $1 to $21.1 million between 1990 and 2008. The increased sales of organic foods are probably brought about by consumers perceiving these foods to be healthier. Additionally, the surge in diseases like cancer and atopic disorders have motivated health professionals, consumers, and policymakers to shift to organic foods as an alternative instead of relying on manufactured food products. Numerous studies from numerous researchers (Batra, Sharma, & Gupta, 2014; Crinnion, 2010; Mie & Wivstod, 2015; Rembia?‚kowska & ??rednicka, 2009, Forman & Silverstein, 2012) have been conducted to evaluate the health benefits of organic foods. Some of the studies illustrate closely related benefits of consuming organic foods, but overall, the results have proven to be insufficient to formulate definite conclusions. The contradiction on whether organic foods have more health benefits than conventional ones forms the basis of this essay. Batra, Sharma, and Gupta (2014) found that even though there is a lack of high-quality scientific evidence to prove the health benefits of organic foods, these foods have nutritional value to the body.
The authors argue that organic foods are rich in antioxidants, phosphorous, nitrates, phenolics, and vitamins A, C, and E. Additionally, crops produced via organic farming have been found to have lower amounts of heavy metals, higher levels of vitamin C, iron, and magnesium. Furthermore, Crinnion (2010) discovered that organic foods have twenty-one percent iron and twenty-nine percent more magnesium than non-organic foods. Likewise, organic foods have increased concentration of ascorbic acid, which is an essential vitamin. Mie and Wivstad (2015) provide different opinions regarding the health benefits of organic foods compared to conventional ones. The authors found that organic crops contain twelve percent more vitamins than conventional ones. The results of the study indicated a sixteen percent increase in vitamin C, eleven percent for flavones and flavonols, and eleven percent in other non-defense compounds (Mie & Wivstod, 2015). Additionally, Huber, Rembia?‚kowsk, ??rednick, B??gel, and van de Vijver (2011) explored the hypothesis that organic food might increase living organisms’ capacity towards resilience. In terms of nutritional content, the scholars found that organic foods had less pesticide residues and lower nitrate contents while having higher phenolic compounds and vitamin C levels (in organic plant foods) and higher conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids levels (in milk obtained from animals raised organically).
Despite lack of human-based studies, in-vitro models demonstrated higher antimutagenic and antioxidative activity alongside better inhibition of proliferation of cancer cells, while animal models demonstrated positive impacts on growth, weight, the immune system, and fertility indices. In terms of human studies, Huber et al. (2011) report that human epidemiological investigations found an association between organic foods consumption and reduced risks of allergies. However, findings based on human intervention studies remain ambiguous. In a meta-analysis study, Batra et al. (2014) recorded higher levels of total omega three fatty acids, proteins, alpha-Linoleic acid (ALA), vaccenic acid, and docosapentaenoic acid in organic dairy products. Results from a longitudinal KOALA (which is an acronym in Dutch for Child, parents and health: lifestyle and genetic constitution) Birth Cohort study that involved 2700 infants conducted by Mie and Wivstad (2015) indicated that the consumption of organic dairy products during pregnancy and infancy resulted in lower risk of eczema at two years of age. Organic milk contains more omega three fatty acids than conventional milk. The authors also found that in Sweden, cows reared using organic foods produced milk that had higher alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA) concentration than conventional milk. The Swedish cows had thirty-eight percent higher content of omega three fatty acids, and in Scania, the cow’s produced eighty-seven percent higher alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA) compared to conventional milk.
Equally important, it is hypothesized that organic foods have more antioxidants than conventional foods. Flavonoid molecules together with carotenoid lycopene are potent antioxidants (Crinnion, 2010). Research indicated that carotenoid lycopene reduces the risk of cancer. Moreover, the anthocyanin in organically grown berries improved neuronal and cognitive brain functions, ocular health, and protect genomic DNA integrity. Rembia?‚kowska and ??rednicka (2009) found that seventy-two percent of studies indicated high concentrations of polyphenols in organically grown foods in comparison with conventionally produced ones. Polyphenols are a class of plant metabolites with potential antioxidative properties. Flavonols are one of the groups of polyphenols that have been found in organic foods. Flavonols mitigate the incidence of heart diseases, cancer, obesity and allergies, liver diseases, atherosclerosis, and gastrointestinal infections. Additionally, juices from organic welsh onion, Chinese cabbage, and organic spinach have been found to have a fifty to one hundred and twenty percent higher antioxidant activity than juices from conventionally grown vegetables (Rembia?‚kowska, & ??rednicka, 2009). Similarly, Rembia?‚kowska and ??rednicka (2009) found that organic currants also indicate thirty percent higher antioxidant levels. Mie and Wivtsad (2015) provide research results that contradict the health benefits of organic foods. The authors evaluated a systematic review from 2012 conducted by Smith-Spangler and coworkers.
The outcomes of the study indicated that only phosphorous and phenols had higher concentration levels in organic foods. The study had a high statistical heterogeneity that rendered the results inconsistent. The results indicated reporting and publication bias. The overall conclusion is that the published literature lacks substantial evidence to suggest that organic foods are more nutritious than conventional ones. Mie, Andersen, Gunnarsson, Kahl, Kesse-Guyot, Rembia?‚kowska, Quaglio, and Grandjean (2017) argue that current research on organic food consumption and its benefits to human health is scarce. The authors further illustrate the lack of long-term interventional studies that aim to provide the link between good health and organic foods. The lack of biomarkers of exposure, the lack of the evaluation exposure, and the reliance on self-reported data result in measurement errors in the studies. Some reviews have tried to show the relationship between organic food consumption and health, but due to the small sample populations and the short duration of conducting these studies, there arise limited statistical powers and the possibility to determine the long-term effects (Mie et al., 2017).
Other studies have shown little significant differences in biomarkers related to health or nutritional status among participants consuming organic and conventional foods. Mie et al. (2017) also compared the results of two studies that investigated the impact of organic and conventional crop farming on cancer cell lines. The results from the organic crops indicated firm anti-proliferative activity against one colon and breast cancer line in comparison to the conventional plants. Other findings showed that juices from organically grown beetroot reduced the levels of apoptosis in gastric cancer cell line. The two studies provided significant differences on the health benefits of organically grown crops against conventional ones. However, what Mie et al. (2017) noted about these surveys is that neither of these studies determined which of the organic or the conventional food product demonstrated preferable biological activity towards improving human health. The authors also confirm that numerous animal studies, especially among rats show how organic foods boost the immune system of the rats. However, Mie et al. (2017) asserts that the relevance of these findings on humans is yet to be concluded with relevant findings.
The authors also argue that studies that have been conducted on animals and have provided promising results are yet to be performed on humans; hence, it is necessary to avoid formulating conclusions that claim that organic foods are healthier than conventional ones. Equally important, Mie et al. (2017) further contradict the argument that organic foods have more nutritional value than conventional ones by stating that particular pesticides are utilized for organic farming. The residues of these pesticides are known to have low toxicological effects on the health of human beings; however, evidence suggests that pesticide residues in food increase the prevalence of humans being exposed to diseases. Forman and Silverstein (2012) argue that individuals believe that organic foods are more nutritious than conventional ones yet the research to support this fact is not definitive. A significant number of studies have demonstrated zero differences in carbohydrate, vitamin, and mineral contents between organic and conventional foods. According to the authors, some studies have identified lower nitrate content in organic foods in comparison with conventional ones.
Some of the studies that attempt to illustrate the differences and the importance of organic food and conventional ones result in conflicting conclusions For instance, a study conducted by Forman and Silverstein (2012) aimed to determine the nutrient differences between organic and conventional foods demonstrated zero significant differences in nutrient content. As a result, the study failed to deliver substantial differences in nutritional quality of organic and conventional foods. According to the authors, the lack of logical explanations requires further research (Forman, & Silverstein, 2012). Other scholars also highlight the themes of insufficient evidence, poor study design, and insignificant differences between organic and conventional foods. For instance, Williamson (2007) notes that few studies have compared health outcomes after consumption of organic or non-organic diets, with the studies ranging from some controlled animal feeding studies alongside a notably small number of observational human-based studies. From a comparative animal study, only modest evidence demonstrating beneficial effects of organic food is available. Moreover, the small differences in nutrient composition identified are unlikely to influence health outcome differences.
Among humans, the few observational studies and lack of large scale, representative studies is further influenced by poor study design and lack of control for compounding lifestyle variables that lead to questions about any beneficial effects from eating organic foods. Meanwhile, after seeking to undertake systematic reviews investigating nutrient content differences and nutrition-related health benefits from organic diets, Dangour, Allen, Lock, and Uauy (2010) are adamant that no evidence exists in favor or organic diets currently. This position arises from the lack of evidence for major nutritional content differences, as well as only 11 out of 92,000 publications being of sufficient scholarly quality in the case of nutrition-related health benefits of organic diets. In another study, Williams (2002) investigated the nutritional quality associated with organic foods, noting that perceived superior quality is leading to heightened consumer preference for organic food products to conventional foods produced through intensive farming methods. The author highlights the lack of evidence of superiority of organically produced foods owing to the limited number of studies and poor quality study designs. In terms of the available body of evidence, Williams (2002) notes that very few studies have compared nutrient compositions between organic and conventionally produced crop products, with an even fewer number comparing animal products from these two agricultural systems.
Moreover, the author observes that evidence of potential impact on animal and human health remains extremely inadequate, while evidence from controlled animal-model studies is significantly limited or poorly designed. Williams (2002) also notes the absence of reports in scholarly literature regarding controlled human-subject intervention studies, while health outcome comparisons between populations habitually consuming organic or conventionally produced foods are largely flawed owing to compounding factors. In terms of the findings of the few available studies, Williams (2002) notes that researchers have reported very few compositional differences beyond the reasonably consistent findings regarding lower vitamin C and higher nitrate content of conventional vegetables. Moreover, in controlled animal models, the author notes that findings have produced conflicting conclusions. In conclusion, many consumers prefer buying organic foods because relevant studies seem to prove that natural foods are more nutritious than conventional ones. However, various research studies have provided different results that argue against the health benefits of organic foods. Studies that show any difference between organic foods and conventional ones fail to offer logical conclusions and recommendations.
Some surveys also indicate lower nutrient levels in organic foods when compared with conventional ones. Pesticide residuals are also found in organic foods raising the question of the health benefits of organic foods. In other studies, the researchers end up providing contradicting information that results in conflicting conclusions. Finally, based on evidence from various relevant sources, it is evident that further research with proper funding and with a large sample population researchers will be able to differentiate the nutrient levels and health benefits of organic foods compared with conventional ones. Additionally, such studies will have to be of high quality design to address confounding variables and ensure observations made result from actual effects of differences between organic and conventional food products.
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