Eating organic food is certainly good for our enviroment. However the question of whether it is also good for our health is one that has generally divided opinion amongst nutrition experts. It is widely accepted that the vitamin and mineral content of fruit and vegetables have declined. Furthermore pesticide residues have increased over the last 50 years. Both factors as a consequence of changes to more intensive farming practices. But there has been little good quality evidence to support the theory that these changes could lead to adverse health consequences.
A report published in October does however gve us for the first time a large well designed study looking at this question. It concluded that eating organic foods reduces the overall risk of developing cancer by almost a quarter. Unsurprising this lead to newspaper headlines proclaiming that organic food protects against cancer. The study, full details of which can be viewed here, looked at 69,000 French adults over a 5 year period. It found that the individuals who ate the most organic food had a 24% reduced risk of cancer compared to those who ate the least. However the authors themselves acknowledged that there were significant diferences in lifestyles between those who ate the most organic food and those that ate the least.
It is well documented that social economic class has a profound impact on health outcomes. For example a man living in Kensington can expect to live on average 10 years longer than one living in Glasgow. Given the additional cost of organic food it would be expected that those consuming the most would also be wealthier, drink and smoke less, and exercise more. It may have been these factors that contributed to the lower rates of cancers rather than organic foods.The researchers did try and adjust for these factors buts its notoriously difficult to look at any one factor in isolation in these kinds of population studies. My take on this study is that though it’s very interesting, it certainly doesn’t proved a clear link between organic food and reduced risk of cancer. However this won’t stop me encouraging my clients to eat plenty of fruit and vegetable, of as good quality as they can afford, even if it’s not organic.