Is Organic worth it?

Diet plays a key role in health and disease. In recent decades, consumers have become increasingly conscious not just about what they eat, but how it was grown and where it originated. Do you buy local? Do you buy organic? Is your baby food organic and non-GMO? It has almost become a status symbol, and the epitome of health and wellness. Indeed, in some circles (especially “mom” circles), you could be frowned upon for choosing the tomatoes from the conventional pile rather than the exceptional organic section. The question is, does this more expensive and highly reputed organic title pass the sniff test? Is it indeed nutritionally superior? Let us parse through the evidence as it exists thus far.


Terminology



Organic foods are those comprised of 100% organically grown food without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, drugs, antibiotics, irradiation or genetic engineering. They do still use fertilizers and pesticides but are natural varieties. In the case of animal products, the animals are given only organic feed, and do not have antibiotics or growth hormones administered. This food must meet all preceding criteria and be marked with a stamp that signifies certification in the country of origin and sale.


Those made with organic products contain about 70% organic ingredients, and are therefore, not eligible to bear the mark of certification.


Conversely, conventionally grown produce or raised animals, are not necessarily given organic feed, are raised with antibiotics, and synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and can be bioengineered.


Locally grown products are more likely to follow organically grown techniques, have seasonal products and travel a smaller distance, which diminishes the environmental footprint that other foods travelling a farther distance, may impart (Mccarty & Dinicolantonio, 2014) & (Rita Klavinski, 2018).


Nutritional differences



Is it worth paying more for an organic product? In most systematic reviews, it seems that there are no significant differences in terms of vitamin or mineral and hence, nutritional content between organically and conventionally grown produce. There does seem to be higher levels of vitamin C, antioxidants, and phosphorous in organically grown fruits and vegetables.


Organic produce tends to have less antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but the same or even more bacterial contamination to its counterparts (Barrosa et al., 2017). They also have slightly lower levels of protein in organic foods and of course, lower levels of nitrates and heavy metals such as cadmium, by virtue of the lack of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides used. Although, the evidence suggests that the majority of conventionally grown produce contains pesticides that fall well below the safety limit.


In terms of animal products, organic milk tends to have higher amounts of omega 3 polyunsaturated fats, and organic meat tends to have higher polyunsaturated and lower amounts of saturated fats. This is due to the healthy feeds given to animals, and the fact that they are more likely to have a greater range to roam, therefore having more lean tissue composition that benefit their nutritional profiles (Mccarty & Dinicolantonio, 2014) & (Vigar et al., 2019) & (Barrosa et al., 2017).



Which products are worth buying organic?



Buying organic is a personal choice, but they do tend to cost more and are not necessarily healthier. However, if one can afford to buy organic, locally produced products, it may be better for the environment and helps to support local communities and farmers.


Certain produce and whole grains tend to have higher levels of synthetic pesticide residue, although still do contain pesticides which may or may not have potential for adverse health or environmental implications (Barrosa et al., 2017).


The “dirty dozen” as products containing higher pesticides and include spinach, berries, peppers, and cherries, among others. This should not deter anyone from eating fresh foods as they are highly nutritious, just ensure you wash them in cold water with baking soda, and peel or cook them if pesticides are concerning to you (Kubala, 2018).


References


Mccarty, M. F., & Dinicolantonio, J. J. (2014). Are organically grown foods safer and more healthful than conventionally grown foods? British Journal of Nutrition, 112(10), 1589–1591. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0007114514002748


Vigar, V., Myers, S., Oliver, C., Arellano, J., Robinson, S., & Leifert, C. (2019, December 18). A Systematic Review of Organic Versus Conventional Food Consumption: Is There a Measurable Benefit on Human Health? Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7019963/.


Barrosa, S. H., Rimbau, A. T., Queralt, A. V., & Lamuela-Raventos, R. M. (2017). Organic food and the impact on human health. Taylor & Francis. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10408398.2017.1394815?instName=University+of+Alberta.


Rita Klavinski, M. S. U. E. (2018, September 20). 7 benefits of eating local foods. MSU Extension. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/7_benefits_of_eating_local_foods.

Brown, M. J. (2016). What is Organic Food, and is it Better Than Non-Organic? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-organic-food.


Kubala, J. (2018). The Dirty Dozen: 12 Foods That Are High in Pesticides. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/dirty-dozen-foods.

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