Is Organic Better For You? Both Sides of the Recent Study

Posted on 02/26/2016 by Left Coast

The never-ending debate continues.

Popular headlines, from The New York Times to NPR, prove again how fixated we are on the nutritional benefits of eating organic. Are organic foods healthier for you or is it a cash grab?

The latest study to take this on, led by Newcastle University and published in the  British Journal of Nutrition, claimed:

 “both organic milk and meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced products.” 

milk organic quote image

Positive points of the study were:

  • A potential benefit is that increased omega-3 intake can help lower the risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses
  • Due to the nature of the fat profile of organic dairy and meat, people can have increased omega-3 intake without increased amounts of saturated fats and calories
  • Organic milk had higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid and slightly higher concentrations of iron, vitamin E, and some carotenoids
  • This meta-analysis is the largest study of its kind, reviewing 196 papers on dairy and 67 papers on meat


Criticisms of the study were:

  • The difference in nutritional content is too small for significant health benefits *
  • There are better sources of omega-3s than dairy and meat such as fish**
  • The study was funded by groups with presumed organic industry interests
  • Findings in the study that actually favoured conventional food, such as higher iodine levels in conventional milk, were downplayed
  • The study ultimately showed what you feed animals (a grain fed diet vs. a grazing and foraging diet) is what affects the nutritional quality of the food rather than the benefit of organic practices themselves

So is organic better for you?

Sure. It’s better for you in the way that organic practices help protect the air, food and water we’re all dependent on to live. Farming impacts every part of our environment: natural resources, biodiversity, soil health, land and aquatic ecosystems, and more broadly climate change. Plus, you avoid ingesting chemical pesticides when eating organic produce and support animal welfare when purchasing organic animal products.

But is organic better for you nutritionally?

Findings are stacking up both ways. A 2012 Stanford study found little health benefits of organic food compared to conventional food…then it was questioned in the media. Then a Newcastle University study came out claiming a clear difference in nutrient levels of organic vs. conventional foods…then it was disputed in the media.

Time will tell as research continues to be challenged and refined and we look at the long term effects on health. Either way, this study pinpointed we could all (vegans exempt) possibly stand to benefit by improving the quality of what we feed livestock – a practice that can be reinforced in organic farming and further implemented in conventional farming.

It’s valuable to share knowledge to find solutions that will improve our food system as a whole.

Of course there’s another sustainability conversation on how reliant we should be on meat and animal products in the first place, but we’ll save that for another day. What are your reasons for eating or not eating organic? Thanks for reading and share your thoughts below!

Further Discussion:
*Response to this argument in The New York Times: Dr. Bazinet said observational studies suggested that adding 200 milligrams a day of omega-3s to an average diet should yield health benefits. Switching to organic beef would add about 50 milligrams. “Eating one grass-fed beef serving per day is not going to do it,” he said. But if combined with a couple of glasses of organic milk, “it should make a difference,” Dr. Bazinet said. “That would be the hypothesis.”
**Response to this argument in The New York Times: “A shortcoming of the recommendation to eat more fish is that if everyone followed it, the rivers, oceans and lakes would be emptied of fish. Dr. Bazinet of the University of Toronto said perhaps encouraging people to switch to organic meats and milk would be “a way to kind of get at them with the foods they’re already eating.””


  1. Emen

    Unfortunately, eating organic for most people has become a cost associated choice. The price difference between organic and non-organic foods can be quite extreme due to some manufacturers taking advantage of the fact that their market consumers may be more willing to pay premium. I buy organic but usually only do so from farmer’s markets as I can talk to the farmers and you can see the freshness of their produce as there was no middle-man.

    It’s been great living in BC because of all the fresh produce that we get from local markets, etc. I choose organic due to the lowered amounts of pesticide and environmental benefits – the farmers care about their land and aren’t restricted as to what they can grow or who they must buy from.

    1. Left Coast

      That’s fantastic, Emen! Supporting organic and local is ideal. From a mass production perspective hopefully consumer demand will shift how the big players operate as our food system is in some serious need of change. Also, the premium of organic will come down when it’s more widely incorporated.

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