Continuing tonight’s health theme, I wanted to post about some interesting data I’ve come upon. I followed up some letters published in the Soil Association’s Living Earth magazine.
The letters continued the debate over the FSA’s controversial report claiming no significant health benefits from eating organic. I’m not a food scientist but the terms and methods of the FSA report seemed destined for a narrow result which could be easily misinterpreted by the media. Though the pretty categorical wording of the FSA’s release helped the media along:
“there are no important differences in the nutrition content, or any additional health benefits, of organic food when compared with conventionally produced food”
What’s odd is that we’ve known for a long time that the mineral content in conventionally farmed produce has been declining. We also know that minerals are vital for maintaining our health. For example this 1997 paper shows how only Phosphorous has escaped significant decline over the fifty years between 1930s and 1980s whilst water content in fruit has increased significantly.
With financial support from some Soil Association members Peter Symonds, a chemist, analysed a variety of flours for their mineral content. Wholemeal, organic UK-grown flours were found to have by far the highest mineral levels for Selenium and Zinc. I’ve copied below the full data and comments from the chemist.
How we grow our food is important not just for the environment around us (e.g. fertilisers polluting our rivers) but for our longterm health. Mineral deficiencies can have long term debilitating health consequences. Sadly the government agency supposed to be championing healthy food is not just ignoring this issue but actively creating the impression the problem isn’t there!
SELENIUM AND ZINC IN ORGANIC AND CONVENTIONALLY GROWN FLOUR.
Hans Lobstein of Brighton and Ian Bowyer of Chelwood Gate, East Sussex, members of the Soil Association, have funded an initial consumer survey of white and wholemeal flour for bread making which is sold in England. The brands Stoneground organic and Marriages organic which were grown in the UK have the highest amount of selenium than conventionally grown.
BRAND AND TYPE ORGANIC SELENIUM ZINC
ug/100 grams mg/100 grams
Marriages strong white yes 20.0 —
Stoneground strong wholemeal yes 18.0 —
Marriages strong wholemeal yes 17.6 3.4
Marriges strong white no 15.6 3.3
Allinsons strong wholemeal no 11.6 2.8
Carr strong wholemeal no 10.2 —
Dove strong wholemeal yes 4.2 —
Hovis strong white no 3.6 —
Hovis strong wholemeal no 3.2 —
Tesco soft white no 2.2 0.8
Morrisons soft wholemeal no 2.0 2.6
Dove soft wholemeal yes 1.0 2.7
Carr strong white no 1.0 —
I have a sneaking suspicion that supermarket own brand Organic will be found to be like the Dove organic rather than the Marriages and Stoneground organic. The Marriages wholemeal is £ 1.35 per 1.5 kilogram while the supermarket own brand is about £ 1. I fear that people who think they can get organic at lower price in the supermarket are being short changed overall.
Peter Symonds B.Sc. C.CHEM. M.R.S.C.
[Earlier notes accompanying initial results]
1st December 2009
FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY REPORT COMPARING ORGANIC AND CONVENTIONALLY GROWN FOOD.
The Food Standards Agency has published a report that reviewed some published literature. The report concluded that organic food was not more nutritious than conventionally grown. Hans Lobstein, a member of the Soil Association, has funded an initial survey of wholemeal and white flour for breadmaking sold in England. The brands Stoneground organic and Marriages organic which were grown in the UK have and higher amounts selenium and zinc than conventionally grown, see table. The Dove flour is derived from wheat grown in Kazakhstan.
The full consumer survey would involve testing other premium brands such as Hovis and McDougal and supermarket own brand Organic flour.
The survey could be further extended to testing for all trace elements. These can be measured reasonably cheaply using a modern analytical instrument, X Ray Fluorescence, which measures all trace elements in one go.
A final effort would involve choosing 10 conventional farms and 10 organic farms (matched for wheat variety, soil and climate) and testing the wheat for selenium and trace elements.
300 grams of Stoneground flour per day provides about 56 ug of Selenium while other foods provide about 30 ug per day. Brazil nuts have approx 1560 ug per 100 grams so a few grams of nuts would bring the daily intake to the lower end of the recommended, 100 to 200 ug per day, all without taking a supplement. The figure for Brazil nuts has not been found from analysing nuts in health food shops but taken from The Composition of Food by McCance and Widdowson. Of course, Brazil is a big place and the composition of nuts may vary across the country.
Peter Symonds firstname.lastname@example.org