Many people prefer organic food because they want to avoid conventional pesticides and colouring/flavouring agents, along with the idea of propagating environmental-friendly practices. This has created a popular belief that organic foods are healthier than non-organic foods. Recently, however, experts have questioned organic food's claim of being a healthier option. Some research suggests that organic food's healthier status is more perceived than real. Today, with expert inputs from Sheela Krishnaswamy – Bangalore-based registered dietitian and wellness consultant, and Neelanjana Singh - Chief Nutritionist, Heinz Nutrition Foundation India (HNFI), we tell you whether organic food is indeed healthy, superior, greener or more beneficial than non-organic foods.
First of all, let's understand the answer to this question: What are organic foods?
As per perception, organic food is food produced without the use of chemicals, pesticides and other synthetic formulae to maintain natural goodness. In reality, the term ‘organic’ refers to a broader scope of the way agricultural products are grown and processed. For a food item to be organic, it has to grow on safe soil, devoid of modification, and must remain separate from conventional chemicals. If the food item is 100% authentically organic, it is grown without the use of bio-engineered genes, petroleum-based fertilizers, synthetic pesticides and sewage sludge-based fertilizers.
People may think that organic food is healthier when compared to conventional foods, because of the following reasons:
- Pure organic food is grown without the use of synthetic chemicals. If chemicals are used, they are supposed to be the natural kind.
- Organic food is supposed to go through fewer stages of processing.
- It is believed that only the food items, which are 100% organic, taste better because they are grown in a natural manner.
- Organic foods are grown through the process of organic farming where the norms of wildlife are respected, and the focus is on water, soil and resource management.
Organic food and environmental factors. This is one area that organic food seems to trump. Sheela Krishnaswamy says, “This can be seen through an environmental perspective. Organic foods certainly benefit the environment. Also, any chemical going into the human body through non-organic foods is bound to have a reaction. The kind of reaction, intensity, duration and time lapse between ingestion and reaction will depend entirely on the individual and his health status."
Singh says that one cannot deny the fact that organic foods do not contain residues of harmful pesticides. She says, "Environment safety is a concern with the use of pesticides and fertilizers as these pollute the soil, water and air. A safer environment is an asset for future generations. In organic farms, the animals are treated better and are kept in a more natural environment. They are given natural feeds without being injected with growth hormones, antibiotics etc, unlike in the production of non-organic foods."
Now that we know the health factors linked with organic foods, let us find out if it is actually healthier than non-organic food.
Over the last decade, health studies have evaluated the nutritional differences between organic and non-organic food. An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition review found that these nutritional difference are minute. The man who led the review, Public Health Nutritionist - Dr Alan Dangour, said, "This is the first time all this evidence has been brought together under one single study. Organic food is no worse than conventional but there is certainly no reason for suggesting organic food has a superior nutritional content.” [Via]
“Nothing is conclusive yet as far the health factor of organic food is concerned”, adds Sheela Krishnaswamy. She says, “Although organic supporters claim that there’s more nutrition in organic foods, unless the soil nutrition profile improves, the plant nutrition profile will not. As of now, there seems to be no major nutritional difference between organic and non-organic foods."
Singh believes that more research is needed in this area and that the future may reveal new facts. “So far, based on 50 years of scientific evidence, there does not appear to be any marked difference between the two in terms of nutritional content/quality. However, a few studies have shown that organic milk and organic tomatoes have a higher content of certain antioxidants,” says Singh. [Via – The Independent]
In our second post of this two-part series on 'Is Organic Food Healthy?' we will delve deeper into sustainable organic practices, harmful effects of overexposure to pesticides and the right way of buying organic food.
Sheela Krishnaswamy is a Bangalore-based Registered Dietitian and Wellness Consultant, with a passion to promote healthy eating. She has nearly 30 years of professional experience in clinical nutrition, corporate healthcare, public speaking and writing.
Neelanjana Singh is the Chief Nutritionist at Heinz Nutrition Foundation India (HNFI). She believes that people get confused by too many unverified pseudo-scientific theories and strongly propagates practical dietary solutions to health as well as weight problems afflicting both the young and the elderly.
*Image courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images
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