Certified organic food and beverage products are grown and produced without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers; antibiotics; or artificial preservatives, colors or flavors. However, very little research has been done to compare the actual nutritional quality of organic foods to their conventional counterparts. A recent study of more than 80,000 packaged food products aimed to bridge that knowledge gap (Nutrients. 2021;13:3020).
The study analyzed 8,240 organic packaged food products and 72,205 conventional packaged food products sold in the U.S. from 2019 to 2020. The items were scored on “total ingredient count, ultra-processed ingredient count, cosmetic additive count, non-cosmetic additive count, calories, total sugar, added sugar, saturated fat, sodium, potassium and trans fat,” and then compared for overall nutritional profile.
The results showed that not only do organic products have the obvious benefit of being free from certain synthetic additives, but their overall quality was measurably better. According to the study authors, “Compared to conventional foods, organic foods in this dataset had lower total sugar, added sugar, saturated fat and sodium content.” In addition, only 8% of the organic foods tested contained trans fat; for conventional foods, trans fat showed up in 40% of the products.
“Overall, organic foods contain fewer ultra-processed ingredients and cosmetic additives and exhibit higher nutritional quality,” the authors concluded. “These features of organic foods sold in the U.S. are significant because lower dietary ingestion of ultra-processed foods, added sugar, sodium and trans-fats is associated with improved public health outcomes.”
Food & Beverage Insider insights
For many consumers, organic indicates a product is made with ingredients grown naturally and without the aid of synthetics. Consumers seeking these attributes generally pay closer attention to what they consume, so it only makes sense these products tend to trend healthier overall to attract these more discerning consumers.
“With the finding that the odds of being labeled organic decreased as ultra-processed ingredient number or cosmetic additive number increased,” the authors observed, “we show that organic product certification can be a proxy for less ultra-processed and thus more healthful products.”
For brands, that statement is key. Organic certification, in consumers’ minds, may equate to a generally healthier profile—and, based on this study, those consumers are usually right. Even for those who aren’t as hesitant to consume products grown with pesticides, this overall health halo can be the difference-maker in a purchasing decision.