To Go Organic or Not: That Is the Question
Tue, April 20, 2021

To Go Organic or Not: That Is the Question

Millennials are known as world changers, among other things. They have, indeed, put their mark on everything from fashion to lifestyle to food revolution / Photo by: ammentorp via 123RF

 

Millennials are known as world changers, among other things. They have, indeed, put their mark on everything from fashion to lifestyle to food revolution. They also love to eat and they love to eat healthy! Driven by the passion for clean living, they have shifted from the conventional to the organic. Thus, organic has become the Now!

 

What Is Organic Food?

Organic is generally grown or raised produce according to precise and strict guidelines aimed to keep away synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, biosolids, sewage sludge, and genetic engineering and at the same time to conserve biodiversity, support reuse of resources, and promote ecological balance.

The US Department of Agriculture sets several criteria for food produce to be considered organic. To be worthy of the distinction, they must be grown in soil that has not contained synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for three years prior to harvest. Organically grown animals are raised in natural living conditions like grazing on pastures and organically fed without antibiotics or hormones. Processed organic food must not contain artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors except for some minor exceptions. For example, it may contain small amounts of approved non-agricultural ingredients like pectin in jams, baking soda in pastries, and enzymes in yogurt.

Organic is generally grown or raised produce according to precise and strict guidelines aimed to keep away from pesticides and other chemicals that can harm the environment / Photo by: Oleksandra Naumenko via 123RF

 

The Nutrition Debate: Is Organic Healthier?

The debates on the superiority of organic food over conventional food in terms of nutrition continue. Several ongoing studies to support that organic contains higher quantities of vitamins and minerals than conventional food have yet to produce significant results. Nonetheless, there are some benefits derived from organic food:

- Organic plants produce more phenols and polyphenols that fight against pests and develop into highly concentrated antioxidant compounds. While there were no additional nutrients discovered in the organic, its high anti-oxidant property was alleged to lower oxidative stress that when left unchecked can lead to type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

This report was contested by Dr. Alan Dangour, the lead author of the AJCN study and nutritionist of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She said that the slightly higher phenolic level (3 percent) of the organic fell within a 6 percent margin of error. She asserted that the interaction between the antioxidant and phenolic compound, the micronutrients' quantity needed by the body, and the health benefits they convey were still unclear. Dr. George Blackburn, the S. Daniel Abraham chair in Nutrition Medicine at Harvard Medical School, said the two compounds have no protective benefit.

- Organic produce contains fewer pesticides such as herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides widely used in conventional agriculture, minimizing residues to remain on the food that people eat.

- Organic food has no preservatives and thus stays longer and fresher.

- Organically grown animals are not given hormones and antibiotics or fed animal byproducts that may create resistant strain bacteria and increase the risk of mad cow disease. Organic food is GMO-free.

- Organic meat and milk are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

- Organic farming is environmental-friendly as their practices reduce pollution and soil erosion, conserve water, use less energy, and increase soil fertility.

Fact vs. Perception

Organic food has grown so popular among consumers that most perceptions are based on hype than hard science. The following are the common perceptions and matching facts regarding organic food.

- Organic is healthier and more nutritious. A comprehensive independent study by Stanford University - Medical School was conducted in 2012 by sifting through thousands of papers ultimately identifying 237 relevant papers for analysis. The study found nothing to support the concept that organic food as a whole is more nutrient-dense or vitamin-rich.

- Organic is safer. Studies comparing pesticide and non-pesticide-grown foods reveal that neither is significantly safer than the other. The American Heart Association encourages consumers to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, whether organic or conventional food, since both kinds provide essential nutrients and fiber for healthy diets. However, the Stanford study of 2012 found that organic food has a 30 percent lower risk of pesticide residues although the residue levels on the conventional foods were likewise well within the safety limits. Both foods contain trace amounts of harmless pesticides and the disparities in toxicity are insignificant to humans.

- Organic is tastier, hence more expensive. Organic costs higher since their maintenance is labor-intensive. The standards imposed by the USDA and the smaller yield from organic farming are the two main reasons why organic is costlier. Nevertheless, some consumers claim organic is more expensive because it tastes better, but no evidence proved this claim. Organic, though, spoils faster as it does not contain preservatives and therefore needs to be transported to the market sooner.

When to Go or Forego Organic

Buy organic produce if pocket permits. Follow these organic buying tips:

- Buy produce when in season. Find out the delivery schedule in market outlets.

- Compare prices in all market outlets.

- Be wise to the marketing ruse in selling junk as healthy. Organic baked products may be organic but are high in sugar, calories, fat, and salt. Read food labels carefully.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) came up with the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists to guide consumers on the essential organic foods. The “Dirty Dozen” has the highest pesticide content and includes strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, and potatoes. The “Clean 15” has the lowest concentration of pesticides and consists of avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, sweet peas, onions, papaya, eggplants, asparagus, cabbages, kiwis, cauliflower, mushroom, cantaloupe, broccoli, and honeydew.

Be wise to the marketing ruse in selling junk as healthy. Organic baked products may be organic but are high in sugar, calories, fat, and salt. Read food labels carefully / Photo by: nikkiphoto via 123RF

 

Bottom Line

The nutrient profiles of both organic and conventional food are similar. Choosing one over the other is really a personal choice. But whether conventional or organic is chosen, ensure that diets are well-balanced.