Scientists challenge antioxidant hypothesis of organic food study

A number of scientists have questioned the significance of the recently published study by Newcastle University into the compositional differences between organic and conventional food, arguing that higher antioxidant levels in food do not confer any proven health benefits.

Tom Sanders, professor of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, told Radio 4’s Today Programme (14 July) that talking about the ‘nutritional’ differences of organic food was misleading. “Antioxidants are not nutrients. What is being referred to here to are polyphenolic materials in plants. In fact, some people view these as anti-nutrients because they interfere with the absorbance of some minerals. They are present in higher levels in organic crops as a response the higher environmental stresses that organic systems create. Polyphenolic levels go up in response to environmental stress as way for the plants to protect themselves. But it is pluses and minuses as far as health benefits for humans are concerned and we simply can’t conclude that when polyphenols are higher that food is healthier to eat.”

Professor Richard Mithen, of the Institute of Food Research, told The Independent: “The references to ‘antioxidants’ and ‘antioxidant activity’, and various ‘antioxidant’ assays would suggest a poor knowledge of the current understanding within the nutrition community of how fruit and vegetables may maintain and improve health.”