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Letters to the Editor Issue 21

by Letters(more info)

listed in letters to the editor, originally published in issue 21 - August 1997

Holistic Nutrition

I enjoy reading Lisa Saffron’s monthly contribution, but feel that trial results on nutrition should be orientated  holistically.

Each individual is unique,  and requires a different intake of vitamins, trace elements, etc. Averages, including RDAS, are useful only as a general guide.  Each of us is different.  Nutritionally, whether intake is provided by conventional, vegetarian or vegan diet is largely unimportant except for the toxic side-effects of chemicals affecting those sensitive to the substance concerned.

I feel that more emphasis should be placed on the end-product of nutrition –  the health of the patient. For instance, Lisa Saffron wrote in Issue 18 that certain trials showed that the vitamin level in conventionally-grown tomatoes was higher than in those grown organically. The application of natural or synthetic substances into the  tomatoes can be easily achieved, but this is only part of the story; the other part is that the high level of vitamins could produce an imbalance in the tomato as a whole.

A.R. Kent in Cirencester, in conjunction with Bristol University,  tested the comparative ‘food value’ of crops grown at Ampney Knowle Farm and treated radionically with crops grown commercially.

2 paired sets of 6 cattle, each the same age and condition were housed under identical conditions in adjacent yards and fed to appetite. The animals were weighed before the experiment and weighed again before slaughtering. The results indicated were:

a)    those fed home-grown feed were more contented through the experiment.
b)    the grader reported better carcasses for the home-grown group.
c)    The food intake of the home-grown group was less than the control group, but the home-grown group achieved a weight increase 27% greater than the control group.

The MAFF have warned consumers to discard the top of conventionally grown carrots due to the high level of ‘residues’. It has been my experience that some patients who show a reaction or intolerance to certain vegetables do not show the same intolerance when tested with the organic variety – it would be interesting to know if other practitioners have had similar experiences.

Another  experience with nutrition concerns the young live-in staff at my stud (averaging four to five over ten years). They ate a largely vegetarian diet of organically-grown vegetables. Initially, because of the hard work involved, their appetites, based on conventional diets when they arrived, were enormous. They found that their weight gain was not only muscle but surplus fat as well. This excess was a gain they would not tolerate so they cut their food intake by about 14%, finding that the nutritionally balanced, organically-grown food gave enough energy for a very active life.

I do not say that specific deficiencies in specific individuals should not be treated by high input of specific foods, but I am convinced that the health of the majority is better on a balanced organically-grown diet.

On the dairy farm it is easy to produce more grass by applying synthetic nitrogen. Although this produces more milk, it has been suggested that the milk produced by such a process is not balanced. In a trial with 500 Fatigue Syndrome patients in the USA it was found that 80% benefitted from high doses of magnesium; most of this 80% showed a marked intolerance to conventional dairy products. It is suggested that  imbalances created in the soil by the excessive use of artificial fertilisers produces a nutritional imbalance in the soil which is passed on through the grass, to the cow,  the milk, the dairy product, to the consumer. There is no BSE in organically-raised cattle.

The difference in taste between organically- and conventionally-grown tomatoes and carrots needs to be experienced to be appreciated.  This reinforces the suggestion that organically-grown produce is better for the body than that grown conventionally.

We have heard of groups of people who lead healthy lives to a great age. The connecting link between these groups is that they live on a largely vegetarian, organically-grown vegetable diet.

To summarise: My plea is that such circumstantial evidence on the nutritional benefits of organically-produced food should not be thrust aside by individualist reductionalist trials, but that the latter should be assessed within the parameters suggested by the former.

Gordon Smith
The Maperton Trust

Lisa Saffron Replies to Gordon Smith

Gordon Smith makes a plea for accepting circumstantial evidence on the nutritional superiority of organic food and for placing the “individualist-reductionalist” vitamin and mineral trials in a more holistic context. My question is whether a balanced diet of organically grown food confers any health benefits over that of a balanced diet of conventionally grown food. 

There are many reasons for choosing organic food. I agree that organic farming is better for the environment and offers a more sustainable method of food production than industrial agriculture. But there is no evidence that a balanced diet of organically grown food confers any health benefits over that of a balanced diet of conventionally grown food.  Gordon Smith’s examples are of food intake, taste, and the ability to tolerate certain vegetables and dairy products, which are not health outcomes. He cites groups of healthy      people living to a great age eating a largely vegetarian, organically-grown vegetable diet. I’ve heard of people who live to a great age who smoke like chimneys and drink like fishes but I wouldn’t attribute their good health to these poisons.

Gordon Smith provides arguments for further research but not evidence. The health authority may have to choose between spending limited resources on a programme to encourage people to eat more fruit and vegetables or  to encourage people to switch to organic fruit and vegetables. In their community, the poorest people have the poorest health and the poorest diets – they eat virtually no fresh fruit and vegetables. The health authority’s priority is to improve the community’s health but neither they nor the poorest members of their community have money for this. To decide between the two programmes, they need the strongest evidence that the one they select will be effective.

The evidence for organic food is circumstantial and anecdotal. If you dismiss the studies comparing vitamin and mineral content as irrelevant or reductionist, you are not left with much. There is not a single study comparing the health of people who eat balanced diets of organic vegetables and fruit with those who eat balanced diets of conventionally-grown produce. There are a few studies showing that people who buy organic food tend to eat a healthier diet than the average but no health outcomes were measured. There are about 40 comparative studies on reproductive performance and growth rates in mammals or birds which gave mixed results but with a tendency for improved health with organic feed.

On the other hand, the evidence for the health benefits of fruit and vegetables is strong and consistent. It is based on large-scale, long-term studies of health outcomes in people and confirmed by many laboratory studies and experiments on animals. If the campaign were successful and people took to eating about five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, such a programme would significantly reduce the community’s risk of two major killers – heart disease and cancer. The reduction in the risk of cancer could be by as much as one third and perhaps up to 60%. There are many reductionist studies isolating specific vitamins, minerals and other natural plant compounds which help explain the protective effect of a diet rich in vegetables and fruit. But as Gordon Smith points out, these individual compounds are not the issue.

I am convinced by the weight of scientific evidence that the health of the majority is better on a balanced diet based mainly on unprocessed plant foods with a minimum of meat, fat, salt, sugar, preserved and processed food. I am also convinced that, in terms of health, it doesn’t matter what type of fertiliser is used to grow those plants or whether there are minute traces of pesticide residues left on them.

Lisa Saffron

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