Organic labels are now popping up all over the place, but you might be wondering, is organic worth the price?
Today we will be discussing the benefits of organic foods and if it's really worth all of the hype.
So first, what does organic mean?
When a food is labelled as organic, it means that it has been grown or raised without synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, hormones, drugs, or genetically modified organisms.
This means the farmer maintains biological diversity and soil fertility, provides alternative care to animals, recycles materials and resources, uses natural fertilizers and pesticides, does not use hormones, only feeds their livestock with organic feed, and do not use genetically modified organisms.
Organic practices don't just impact human health on a consumer level, they have many far reaching effects including protection of the environment, healthier environments for workers, and providing more natural living conditions for animals.
In Canada and the United States, in order to receive the organic certification, products need to be equal or greater to 95% organic content.
The benefits of organic food
Increase in nutrients
Organic crops have been shown to have a higher nutrient score showing increased levels and variety of antioxidants, as well as vitamins and minerals such as iron, vitamin C, magnesium, and phosphorus (1)(2).
A study found the total micronutrient content of organic produce was 5.7% higher than conventional produce (3).
The biggest difference in nutrients was found in the antioxidant status of organic produce, as studies found that organically grown produce can contain up to 30% higher levels of antioxidants than conventional produce (4)(5).
Though the overall vitamin and mineral content in organic produce may not represent a significant difference, studies suggest there may still be more nutritional value in buying organic, especially in terms of antioxidants.
May be better for the environment
Organic farming practices can support the environment and reduce our carbon footprint in several ways including improved soil health, decreased pollution, prevention of land degradation, increased biodiversity, protection of water supply from toxic chemicals, and use of renewable energy sources.
Though organic farming may have many benefits for the environment it's not the only choice that will matter. For example, if a food is organic but imported it may contribute to more pollution than if it were bought locally. In addition, many farmers follow organic practices however they may not necessarily be certified organic due to the expenses that go along with certification. Therefore getting to know your local farmers is a great idea!
Other practices that can be just as impactful for our environment include limiting food waste, shopping local, and opting for a more plant based diet.
Fewer chemicals and toxins
Organically grown foods will have less pesticide reside than non organic sources.
Organic crops are shown to contain less toxins such as heavy metals, which can deplete nutrient status.
A study found the occurrence of pesticide residues to be four times higher in conventional crops than organic (5).
A particularly concerning toxin is glyphosate, also known as the main ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide Round Up. Glyphosate has been associated with many health issues such as autoimmune disease, hormonal imbalances, celiac disease, microbiome dysfunction, reproductive issues, nutrient deficiencies, Parkinson's, liver disease, and even cancers (6)(7)(8).
Organic farming prohibits the use of herbicides such as RoundUp which means the produce cannot be sprayed with this chemical. Therefore eating organic can greatly reduce your exposure to glyphosate, among other toxins.
If you do want to avoid chemicals as much as possible but you're on a budget, refer to the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen lists which review the most important fruits and vegetables to buy organic.
Animal products are free of added hormones and drugs
Most of our attention should be given to the quality of animal products bought, if you do are a carnivore, as these are reported to be the most contaminated in our food supply.
When it comes to organic meat, regulations require that animals be raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors like the ability to access the outdoors, fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not administered antibiotics or hormones.
Conventional animal products use significant amounts of added hormones and antibiotics which can drive antibiotic resistance (9).
Hormones commonly given to livestock include recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone in order to increase growth rate and development. Due to the increased risk of infections and illness antibiotics are routinely given to animals to control disease while increasing production (10).
Healthier fatty acid profile
The dietary habits of the animals we consume can change the fatty acid profile of the product that ends up on our plates (or in our glasses).
Organic animal products provide higher amounts of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats and lower omega 6 fats compared to conventional products (11)(12).
Due to the anti-inflammatory effects of omega 3 fats, this can help to reduce inflammation in the body.
Organic milk has been shown to display a shift in the fatty acid profile, with a lower ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 (13)(14).
Too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3 can contribute to inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disease.
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