More healthy fats
When it comes to meat and milk, organic products can have about 50% more omega-3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated healthy fat, than conventionally produced products, according to a 2016 study in the British Journal of Nutrition. Organic milk tested in the study also had less saturated fat than non-organic.
These differences may come from the way organic livestock is raised, with a grass-fed diet and more time spent outdoors, say the study’s authors. They believe that switching from conventional to organic products would raise consumers’ omega-3 intake without increasing overall calories or saturated fat.
No antibiotics or synthetic hormones
Conventional livestock can be fed antibiotics to protect against illness, making it easier for farmers to raise animals in crowded or unsanitary conditions. The FDA limited the use of certain antibiotics for livestock earlier this year, but loopholes in the legislation still exist. And with the exception of poultry, conventionally raised animals can also be injected with synthetic growth hormones, so they’ll gain weight faster or produce more milk.
But traces of these substances can make their way to consumers, says Rolf Halden, professor and director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Security at Arizona State University. Drug residue is believed to contribute to widespread antibiotic resistance, he says, and organic foods—which are produced without antibiotics—“are intrinsically safer in this respect.” Organic meat and dairy also cannot contain synthetic hormones, which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
More antioxidants, in some cases
In a recent six-year study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers found that organic onions had about a 20% higher antioxidant content than conventionally grown onions. They also theorized that previous analyses—several of which have found no difference in conventional versus organic antioxidant levels—may have been thwarted by too-short study periods and confounding variables like weather.