Welcome to Ask Healthy Living -- in which you submit your most burning health questions and we do our best to ask the experts and get back to you. Have a question? Get in touch here and you could appear on Healthy Living!

"Ask Healthy Living" is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical advice.

Is that Stanford study right? Is organic food really no healthier?

Last week, Stanford University researchers published a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine that they said showed organically-grown food to be no more nutritious than conventionally-grown food. Chaos ensued, as consumer advocacy groups, fellow researchers and environmental and parenting organizations condemned the study, suggested financial ties to food giant Cargill motivated it and even filed a petition to have the research retracted from its journal.

As of publication, a petition with Change.org had 3,351 signatures, on the grounds that it didn't factor in the potential health consequences of genetically modified foods, high fructose corn syrup and other additives that are found more often in conventional foods than in organic ones. As Rosie Mestel wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

The scientists weren’t studying genetically modified foods (though if GMO foods were in the conventional data, one might think that GMO-caused health factors would have revealed themselves in the results). And they weren’t studying high-fructose corn syrup -- they were only reviewing fruits, vegetables, eggs, grains, dairy, poultry and meat. Not processed foods.

The article, in other words, wasn’t about the entirety of everything that people think is wrong about the way our food is grown and produced today. It wasn’t even about every type of difference between organic and conventionally grown food.

Alarmists were not the only ones sounding the alarm, so to speak. As HuffPost's Lynne Peeples reported, a researcher who published a similar analysis in 2011, Kirsten Brandt of Newcastle University, had several criticisms. During the course of her research, she discovered that organic food was indeed nutritionally distinct from conventionally grown food.

"The choices they made don't seem to make sense -- they seemed to include ones where the difference was smallest to begin with," Brandt told Peeples. "I'd like to know why they chose these and not others that were just as well-described in the same papers they included."

As for the study itself, what were they actually trying to prove?

Researchers Dr. Dena Bravata, of the Center for Health Policy, and Dr. Crystal Smith-Spangler, an instructor for Stanford's Division of General Medical Disciplines, conducted an analysis of the 17 most relevant studies that compared the health of subjects who ate either organically or conventionally grown food over periods as short as two days and as long as two years. They also looked at 223 studies that compared organic and conventional foods in terms of levels of various nutrients, as well as bacterial, fungal and pesticide contamination.

They found very little difference between the composite nutrient profiles of organic and non-organic foods. And while they found that conventionally raised pigs and chicken were more likely to yield meat that was contaminated with antibiotic-resistant microbes, the overall microbial levels on organically and conventionally-grown foods were similar.

They did find two studies that showed how children who ate conventional produce had higher pesticide levels in urine samples than those who ate organic foods.

"There isn't much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you're an adult and making a decision based solely on your health," Bravata said in a statement about her study's results. Smith-Spangler added that she was surprised by the results.

Given that similar analyses have found different results, it makes sense to take all of these studies with a grain of salt. While we might not yet know the health impact of the differences between organic and non-organic foods, we have plenty of information to make a personal decision in the supermarket aisle that extend beyond nutrients.

Avoiding pesticides and antibiotic-resistant infections are two good reasons to eat organic food, but they aren't the only ones: some believe that organically-raised animals are also more humanely raised and evidence shows that organic farming is the more environmentally-friendly option. And given the lack of longitudinal study, it's impossible to know what long-term health outcomes both of these options would have.

Have a question? Ask Healthy Living!

Loading Slideshow...
  • Should I Try Intermittent Fasting?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/11/intermittent-fasting-does-it-work_n_3039869.html" target="_blank">Does this new trend in intermittent fasting</a> -- which entails drastically restricting calories on one or two days per week and then eating normally on others -- actually lead to sustained weight loss and better health?... <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/11/intermittent-fasting-does-it-work_n_3039869.html" target="_blank">MORE</a>

  • How Does Exercise Reduce Stress?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/21/exercise-reduces-stress-levels-anxiety-cortisol_n_3307325.html" target="_blank">We've all read that exercise lowers levels of anxiety</a>, depression and stress. And that holds true even for people who are stressed out by the idea of exercise. But how exactly does it do that?... <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/21/exercise-reduces-stress-levels-anxiety-cortisol_n_3307325.html" target="_blank">MORE</a>

  • Do 3,500 Calories Equal A Pound Of Fat?

    The above quoted <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/05/3500-calories-one-pound-fat-calorie-burn_n_2806578.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems" target="_blank">formula is taken as dieting orthodoxy</a>: to lose one pound of fat per week, simply create a 3,500 calorie deficit through diet and exercise et voila, lose a pound a week for as long as you can keep it up. If only it were that simple... <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/05/3500-calories-one-pound-fat-calorie-burn_n_2806578.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems" target="_blank">MORE</a>

  • Why Do I Have Brittle Nails?

    Brittle nails, or onychorrhexis, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/24/brittle-nail-causes_n_2540959.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems" target="_blank">is a very common condition</a>, affecting about 20 percent of the population and disproportionately common in women. It's characterized by easy breakage -- either splits lengthwise or nails that easily "peel" across from corner to corner... <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/24/brittle-nail-causes_n_2540959.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems" target="_blank">MORE</a>

  • The Healthiest Way To Gain Weight

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/16/healthiest-way-to-gain-weight_n_2475362.html?utm_hp_ref=healthy-living">While fewer than two percent of the American </a>population is underweight, for those who try without success to put on pounds, the experience can be frustrating and, occasionally, of medical concern... <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/16/healthiest-way-to-gain-weight_n_2475362.html?utm_hp_ref=healthy-living">MORE</a>

  • How Much Water Should I Drink?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/03/how-much-water-should-i-drink_n_2398712.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">The notion that we must all drink eight cups </a>of water per day to improve our health is an old one, but it isn't exactly accurate. Although the suggestion dates back to at least the 1940s, the latest to carry the mantel are, unsurprisingly, bottled water companies...<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/03/how-much-water-should-i-drink_n_2398712.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">MORE</a>

  • Why Am I So Grumpy In The Morning?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/11/morning-mood_n_2273001.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">Some people are deeply, terminally grouchy</a> in the morning -- no one disputes this fact. But if you're "not a morning person," as such moodiness is often more delicately referred to, is this actually meaningful in some way? Does it say anything about the quality of your sleep? Or your life? ... <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/11/morning-mood_n_2273001.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">MORE</a>

  • Is Your Workout Better If Your Body Trembles?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/15/muscle-shaking-causes_n_2140397.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">Many exercise programs advertise a certain kind of muscle quaking </a>that they hold up as evidence that their workout is effective. But is the "wobbling" Amanda refers to actually a sign that your body is getting stronger? <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/15/muscle-shaking-causes_n_2140397.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">MORE</a>

  • Is There A 'Wrong' Way To Eat Fruit?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/12/the-best-way-to-eat-fruit_n_2114888.html?utm_hp_ref=health-and-fitness&ir=Health%20and%20Fitness">Fruit is an incredibly healthy food group</a>: packed with vitamins, nutrients, fiber and water. But there have been some nutritional claims circulating that suggest fruit can also be damaging if eaten in conjunction with other foods... <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/12/the-best-way-to-eat-fruit_n_2114888.html?utm_hp_ref=health-and-fitness&ir=Health%20and%20Fitness">MORE</a>

  • Should You Drink Water After A Massage?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/05/water-after-a-massage_n_2075604.html">Many practitioners believe that deep tissue massage releases toxins from the muscles </a>and into the blood stream. They assert that the water helps the kidneys and pancreas to process those toxins. And while research shows that massage is useful for many conditions -- from anxiety to several types of cancers to childhood constipation -- the truth is that there's no research that clearly illustrates how massage affects toxicants in the body... <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/05/water-after-a-massage_n_2075604.html">MORE</a>

  • Why Can't I Stop Eating At Night?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/25/late-night-snacking_n_2006566.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">Allison is hardly alone in her late-night eating habit</a>. We talked to nutritionists and sleep experts to get a better sense of what causes us to break into the fridge in the wee hours. Turns out, there are many conditions that can cause this type of eating, but they have markedly different symptoms... <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/25/late-night-snacking_n_2006566.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">MORE</a>

  • Do Food Cravings Indicate Nutritional Deficiency?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/08/food-cravings_n_1940299.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">"If cravings were an indicator of nutritional deficiency, we'd all crave fruits and vegetables,"</a> says Karen Ansel, MS, RD, CDN. "The fact that we all want high carb, high fat comfort foods, along with the research, is a pretty good indicator that cravings aren't related to deficiencies." ... <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/08/food-cravings_n_1940299.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">MORE</a>

  • Is Neck Cracking Dangerous?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/03/neck-cracking-dangerous-spinal-manipulation_n_1929690.html?utm_hp_ref=health-and-fitness&ir=Health%20and%20Fitness">If you crack your neck to relieve pain, you aren't alone</a>. By one estimate, chiropractors perform between 18 and 38 million cervical spine manipulation treatments each year. That involves quick motions to loosen the joint and ligaments, which often makes a "pop" sound -- and that helps explain the colloquial term we often use: "cracking." ... <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/03/neck-cracking-dangerous-spinal-manipulation_n_1929690.html?utm_hp_ref=health-and-fitness&ir=Health%20and%20Fitness">MORE</a>

  • How To Stretch Safely For Flexibility After 50

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/26/stretch-safely-for-flexibility-_n_1909997.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">It's true that as we age, flexibility becomes an even bigger concern</a>. All of the experts we interviewed agreed that older bodies come with an ultimatum: Use it or lose it. If you aren't maintaining an active lifestyle, you can expect accelerated muscle loss, decreased stamina, strength, range of motion, balance and flexibility... <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/26/stretch-safely-for-flexibility-_n_1909997.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">MORE</a>

  • Paleo Diet: Healthy Or A Hoax?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/20/paleo-diet-healthy_n_1898529.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">If you're unfamiliar with this popular diet, the Paleo Diet (also known as the "Caveman Diet") prescribes a pattern of eating that mirrors the way your ancestors ate</a> back (way back!) in the day. The assertion is simple: diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease are illnesses "of civilization" and so, to combat the ill effects of the modern diet, we should return to a pre-civilization, hunter-gatherer diet of meat, fish, fruits and vegetables... <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/20/paleo-diet-healthy_n_1898529.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">MORE</a>

  • Is Organic Food Healthier?

    Last week, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/14/is-organic-food-healthy_n_1881046.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems" target="_hplink">Stanford University researchers published a study</a> in the Annals of Internal Medicine that they said showed organically-grown food to be no more nutritious than conventionally-grown food. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/14/is-organic-food-healthy_n_1881046.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems" target="_hplink">MORE</a>

  • Why Do My Eyelids Twitch?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/31/why-do-my-eyelids-twitch_n_1844041.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">Myokymia, or involuntary eye twitching</a>, is a condition that many of us are familiar with. And it seems everyone has an opinion on what triggers it: Is it fatigue? Eye-strain? Stress? <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/31/why-do-my-eyelids-twitch_n_1844041.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">MORE</a>

  • Adult Acne: Why Does It Happen?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/27/adult-acne_n_1825909.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">A pimple occurs when sebum</a> -- the lubricant that naturally moisturizes our skin and hair -- is trapped under dead skin cells and debris in a hair follicle, according to the Mayo Clinic. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/27/adult-acne_n_1825909.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">MORE</a>

  • Who Decides Serving Sizes?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/23/serving-sizes_n_1822551.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">Believe it or not, we decide what a serving size is</a>. The unit we see at the top of our nutrition labels (eight cookies, 100 grams, half a bottle, e.g.) comes from the average amount that Americans over the age of four consume in a single seating. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/23/serving-sizes_n_1822551.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems">MORE</a>

  • Is It Necessary To Eat Before A Workout?

    With all of the marketing of sports drinks, bars, gels and powders, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/13/eat-before-a-workout_n_1765397.html?1345662712" target="_hplink">this is an excellent question to ask</a>. There's certainly no harm in eating -- and it might help you meet your fitness goals by giving you more energy during the actual run or elliptical workout. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/13/eat-before-a-workout_n_1765397.html?1345662712" target="_hplink">MORE</a>

  • Why Does Weight Loss Get Harder?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/07/losing-the-last-10-pounds_n_1752918.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems" target="_hplink">Anyone who has tried to lose weight</a> knows about those frustratingly immobile final five or 10 pounds. And while there are a lot of suggestions (just Google "last 10 pounds" and you'll enter an echo-chamber of weight loss advice, scientific half-truths and can-do enthusiasm), the truth is that several pretty straight-forward reasons can explain that unshakeable weight. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/07/losing-the-last-10-pounds_n_1752918.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems" target="_hplink">MORE.</a>

  • Should I Do Cardio Or Weights First?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/06/cardio-or-weights-first-exercise-order_n_1739089.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems" target="_hplink">Working out is always good for you</a>. The good news is that, whether you do it before or after weight training, cardiovascular exercise like running, swimming, biking or machine-work will improve everything from your heart health to your mood to your chance of avoiding many cancers. And lifting weights helps with everything from bone density to metabolism. But according to exercise physiologists and personal trainers we spoke with, the order of operation can change depending on a person's goal. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/06/cardio-or-weights-first-exercise-order_n_1739089.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems" target="_hplink">MORE</a>

  • Should You Take A Multivitamin?

    The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/01/should-you-take-a-multivitamin_n_1725380.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems" target="_hplink">first thing to acknowledge</a> is that, for the most part, Americans are not deficient in vitamins. A recent CDC survey found that we're sufficiently nourished in essential nutrients like vitamins A, D and folate. But just because we aren't deficient, doesn't necessarily mean that our vitamin levels are optimal. The question is, how important are optimal levels? <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/01/should-you-take-a-multivitamin_n_1725380.html?utm_hp_ref=health-problems" target="_hplink">MORE</a>

  • How A Hangover Works

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/06/how-a-hangover-works_n_1861702.html">If the data is any indication, at least 75 percent of you will recognize this feeling</a>: a throbbing headache, exhaustion, queasiness and even muscle fatigue following a night of overindulging. But what is it about drinking alcohol that causes such discomfort? <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/06/how-a-hangover-works_n_1861702.html">MORE</a>

  • How Long After I Eat Is Weight Added To My Body?

    Given that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/26/what-is-metabolism_n_1701547.html" target="_hplink">we all have different metabolic speeds</a>, what is the average amount of time it takes food to be digested and then shunted off to its various purposes? <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/26/what-is-metabolism_n_1701547.html" target="_hplink">MORE</a>

  • Why Am I So Hungry After A Big Meal?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/why-am-i-hungry_n_1677364.html" target="_hplink">Big meals are often celebratory</a>, which means they may include foods that are decadent rather than nutritious: starchy vegetables like mashed potatoes, white dinner rolls, cake. Foods that fall high on the glycemic index can make your blood sugar spike, causing a surge of insulin to drag it back down. The quick vacillation in blood sugar can cause a disruption to the normal cycle of leptin -- a hormone secreted by the fat cells that signals to the brain when you've had enough to eat ... <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/why-am-i-hungry_n_1677364.html" target="_hplink">MORE</a>

  • What Is Excessive Sweating?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/03/what-is-excessive-sweating-hyperhidrosis_n_1645264.html" target="_hplink">Let's start with the basics</a>: the primary purpose of sweating is to cool your body down. "Sweating is the body's natural, neurological response to cool the body by stimulating the sweat glands to produce moisture that cools the body by drawing heat from the body during evaporation," Perin tells HuffPost Healthy Living. "Because everyone's body is different, the response differs from one individual to another, producing varying levels of perspiration." <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/03/what-is-excessive-sweating-hyperhidrosis_n_1645264.html" target="_hplink">MORE</a>

  • Why Do My Muscles Burn So Much?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/10/muscle-soreness-explained_n_1659777.html" target="_hplink">Let's talk about muscle soreness.</a> Delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS as it is often called, is the common -- one could even say requisite -- result of a workout. If you do an activity you're not used to, such as taking a new type of fitness class, attacking a hill on your bike when you're used to riding on flat ground, or running a far longer distance than you are accustomed to -- the difference in muscle use can cause micro-tears in muscle fibers and connective tissue. As your body works to repair itself, you may feel some low-grade pain in the area ... <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/10/muscle-soreness-explained_n_1659777.html" target="_hplink">MORE</a>

  • Why Does My Face Flush When I Exercise?

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/26/red-face-exercise_n_1625480.html" target="_hplink">When you exercise, capillaries in your face</a> and throughout your body dilate and blood flows through them in an effort to move the heat your body is generating to the skin's surface, where it can be radiated off. This effort helps to keep you cool while you work out, but it can also make your skin look flushed -- especially in the face ... <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/26/red-face-exercise_n_1625480.html" target="_hplink">MORE</a>