In just a few decades the Organic food market has exploded. Consumers of Organic foods are increasing by a rate of up to 30% every year in Australia. It is estimated that six out of 10 Australian households have purchased organic foods.
People are clearly willing to pay more for the better quality of food that is inherent in the classification ‘Organic’.
Yet, just how much more nutritious are organic foods?
Are they really safer?
And should you be willing to pay a little more and make the switch to organic?
What is Organic Food?
Organic food is produced by farmers who do some things differently to ensure that the crops produced are as healthy as possible. Organic farmers:
- Rotate crops in order to promote biological diversity
- Conserving and renewing soil
- Protecting and minimising the use of water
- Growing, handling and processing crops without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, artificial ingredients or preservatives.
- Do not irradiate their crops
- Do not grow genetically engineered foods
- Do not give their animals antibiotics or growth hormones
As mentioned, organic foods have no exposure to synthetic pesticides. They can however, have natural pesticides used on them. Some of these, like pyrethrin, can cause allergic reactions. Copper compounds, which are also used, are potentially toxic.
Is Organic Food More Nutritious?
A meta-analysis of 240 research studies was published in the 2012 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine focusing on the comparison of the health effects of traditionally grown and organic crops. The differences were minimal.
Other studies, however, show that organic crops contain higher levels of antioxidants. It is important to note, though, that the label ‘organic’ does not necessarily make a food more healthy.
Organic cereals, spreads, bars and chocolates contain organic sugar which has just as many calories as normal sugar.
Is Organic Food Safer?
A major study, sponsored by the non-profit consumers Union, examined 94,000 food organic and conventional samples from 20 major food crops. This study revealed that organic food crops contained on average one third of the residues that were present in conventionally grown foods. In addition, organic foods tend to be less processed and, therefore, less prone to contamination.
It is important that children especially are shielded from pesticide residue in food. Their immunity is weaker than adults and their organs are less resilient to toxins. In addition, children tend to have a less varied diet, so toxic build-up is more likely.
Which Organic Foods?
Organic food is expensive, so those considering it may wish to make a piece-meal switch. Start with fruits and vegetables, with an emphasis on the following:
- Snow peas
The following foods have ben identified as low-residue and safe to eat in a non-organic form:
Organic meat is worth the extra cost. Animals that are fed on toxin laden feed will accumulate residue in their fat stores. Purchasing organic meats will prevent those toxins from entering your system.
- Organic foods are processed without synthetic pesticides, fertilizer or herbicides
- Pesticide levels in organic foods are about one third of conventionally grown foods
- Children gain the most benefit from organic foods
- Organic foods have the same nutritional value as conventionally grown foods – the difference is in the toxin level.
- Organic production and handling standards. U.S. Department of Agriculture http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004445&acct=nopgeninfo.
- Organic labeling and marketing information. U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3004446&acct=nopgeninfo.
- Pesticide and food: Healthy, sensible food practices. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/food/tips.htm.
- Smith-Spangler C, et al. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives? A systematic review. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2012;157:348.