Lifestyle

Should You Go Organic?

According to the USDA, organic produce is continuing to grow at a double-digit rate. This rising demand is providing farmers with an incentive to grow organic food. Organic foods now account for 4% of total food sales. (1)

The sale of organic food has been growing rapidly since 2000. The sale of organic food stood at $47 billion in the US alone in 2017. The US continues to be the biggest market for organic products.

44 percent of US citizens try to include organic foods into their diet plan, while 40 percent say that most or at least part of their diet comprises of organic foods. Slightly over half of all US consumers believe that organic produce is better in terms of health and environmental impact than conventional produce. (2)

Many people believe that organic is not only healthier, but it also tastes better than non-organic food. (3)

Organic Food

The word ‘organic’ refers to the way the food is produced. To be certified as ‘organic,’ the food should be grown without any GMOs, antibiotics, or artificial chemicals. The food should also be free of synthetic food additives, including artificial flavorings, coloring, preservatives, and sweeteners.

Organically-grown produce uses natural fertilizers like manure in place of artificial fertilizers to enhance plant growth. Organically-raised animals should not be given hormones or antibiotics.

Organic food production may improve soil quality due to the use of natural fertilizers and may thus be more environmentally-friendly than conventional farming.

Does Organic Food Have More Nutrients?

Studies carried out to investigate the nutrient content of organically grown food show mixed results. One important reason for this could be due to the variances in food production and processing. There is some evidence that organic food may have higher nutritional content.

A number of studies show that organically grown food has higher amounts of antioxidants as well as micronutrients like iron, zinc and vitamin C. antioxidant content can go up by as much as 69% in organic foods. (4) (5) (6) (7)

According to the results of one study, organic corn and berries contained 52% higher vitamin C and 58% more of antioxidants. (8)

Another study should just how significant these higher levels of nutrients can be. Regular consumption of organic cereals, vegetables and fruits can boost your nutrient intake substantially. Eating organically provides the equivalent of 2 extra servings of fruits and vegetables each day. (9)

According to these studies, one possible reason for the higher antioxidant levels in organic produce could be the lack of synthetic pesticides. Since organic crops do not rely on synthetic pesticides, they have to produce more of their own defensive substances including antioxidants. There may possibly be other reasons why organic crops have higher antioxidant levels.

Organic Dairy and Meat Have a Better Nutritional Profile

Organic dairy products have higher amounts of carotenoids, vitamin E, iron and omega 3 fatty acids. Due to the higher omega 3 fatty acid content, organic dairy has a better nutritional profile as compared to ordinary commercial dairy. The presence of higher amounts of omega 3 fatty acids is critical because these fatty acids can lower the risk of several chronic diseases and are yet present only in small amounts in other food sources besides seafood. (10) (11)

Organic meat may also have a better fatty acid profile than conventional meat. In one review, researchers analyzed 67 studies and concluded that organic meat not only has more omega 3 fatty acids, it also has less saturated fat compared to conventional meat. 

Increased consumption of omega 3 fatty acids is recommended since they can improve brain health, lower the risk factors of heart disease, reduce metabolic syndrome symptoms, control inflammation, reduce the incidence of autoimmune disease, fight mental decline, reduce cancer, enhance sleep, improve blood lipid profile, reduce blood pressure, slow the development of arterial plaque, reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and improve joint and bone health. (12) (13) (14) (15)

At this point it is worth looking at studies that found no differences between organic foods and conventional produce.

No Differences Found

An observational study found conflicting results in the nutrient intake of 4,000 test subjects who consumed either organic produce or conventionally grown food. Although researchers found that consumers of organic food had a higher nutrient intake, this could possibly be due to the higher fruit and vegetable intake of these health-conscious people. Therefore, the results of this study proved to be inconclusive.

Another study failed to find a significant difference in the nutrient levels of organic food and conventional food. The researchers stated that the difference in nutrition levels was not sufficient to recommend organic food. (16)

There are other review studies which do not find significant differences. This includes one review that analyzed 55 studies and another review that analyzed 233 studies. (17) (18)

It appears that there may be certain factors at play that are producing conflicting results. Crop processing and harvesting methods, weather conditions and soil quality may have a big impact on the nutritional profile of organic produce. Likewise, differences in breeds, genetics, animal feed, seasons and farm conditions may also affect the nutritional quality of organic meat and dairy. Further research needs to be done in this regard to uncover factors that can influence the nutritional profile of organic foods.

Based on the information presented above, you can make your own choice if it will be wiser or not to go along with organic produce.

References

(1) https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/natural-resources-environment/organic-agriculture/organic-market-overview/

(2) https://www.statista.com/topics/1047/organic-food-industry/

(3) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0950329313000141

(4) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07352689.2011.554417

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21929333

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12590461

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24968103

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12590461

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24968103

(10) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1573521411000054

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26878105

(12) https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-be-taking-an-omega-3-supplement

(13) https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/omega-3-fish-oil-supplements-for-high-blood-pressure

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