Based on double-digit growth in sales of organically produced goods, you might think organic foods are healthier choices than conventional foods. Especially given the price premiums for organic products (see USDA Organic Market Overview). Baudry and colleagues investigated the relationships between nutrition and health from 28,245 participants of the NutriNet-Sante study using a semi-quantitative, organic frequent food questionnaire (FFQ) with 264 foods items.
For each every food item consumed, participants were asked “How often was the product of organic origin”? Then the authors calculated the proportion of organic food in the whole diet. Using a cluster analysis procedure, 5 types of consumers were identified:
1) standard conventional food small eaters,
2) unhealthy conventional food big eaters,
3) standard organic food small eaters,
4) ‘green’ organic food eaters, and
5) hedonist moderate organic food eaters.
In brief, those in cluster 1 and 2 ate very little organic food whereas consumers in cluster 3 and 4 ate a high proportion of organic food. Cluster 5 were moderate consumers of organic food.
Standard conventional food consumers (cluster 1) were more likely to be urban and younger. They ate fewer calories, relatively little organic food and their diet had intermediate nutritional quality. Cluster 2 (unhealthy conventional food big eaters) had a large proportion of men characterized by low income and education. In general, their diet was poorer nutritional quality. Cluster 3 had the lowest proportion of men. Predominantly characterized by females eating fewer calories. Because of their low meat intake, vegetarian/vegan organic food eaters (Cluster 4) were most likely to have inadequate vitamin B12 and iron intake. Cluster 5, the hedonic moderate organic food eaters representing 5% of the population, were the most likely to be smokers, eat meat, and consume alcohol.
It is the nutritional composition of our food choices, not whether they are organic or conventionally grown, that defines the quality of our diet. One measure of nutritional quality is ‘nutrient density’. Some foods that are important sources of nutrients can be overlooked when nutrient profiling is used to identify healthier options.
In the end, it is important to remember that fortified foods are important sources of vitamins and minerals for many children, teenagers, and adults. Multivitamin supplements also help to fill micronutrient gaps.
Baudry J, Touvier M, Alles B, Peneau S, Mejean C, Galan P, Hercberg S, Lairon D, Kesse-Guyot E. Typology of eaters based on conventional and organic food consumption: results from the NutriNet-Sante cohort study. 2016 Br J Nutr doi: 10.1017/S0007114516002427
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Dickinson A, MacKay D. Health habits and other characteristics of dietary supplement users: A review. 2014 Nutr J doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-14