Is organic actually better?

The organic food industry is booming as it surpassed 63 billion dollars in total growth between 2020 and 2021(1)

The demand for organic food continues to increase as the global health crisis has given consumers even more of a reason to choose healthier products that also support sustainability. 

When a food is organically certified, this means that it has been produced through approved methods that promote ecological biodiversity and do not use any synthetic fertilizers, artificial food additives or chemicals, sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering.

Animals that are raised on organic farms are fed organically grown feed and are not given any antibiotics or growth hormones.

People are becoming more curious and concerned about the sourcing of their food and want to make sure they are choosing healthy options for themselves and their family.

Most health advocates recommend choosing organic foods however with the increased cost of food products, you may be wondering if it's actually worth it?

Many people believe that organic food is not only tastier but also healthier for humans and the environment, and today we explore this concept by comparing organic with non-organic food.


How does organic differ from conventional?

Nutrient density

Though studies that have compared the nutrient density of organic and non organic foods have mixed results, there is evidence that suggests that organically grown foods may possess more nutrition.

Conventional farming practices reduce the nutrient content of produce as fruits and vegetables absorb their nutrients from the soil in which they are grown. Conventional crops are also grown using chemicals such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and monocropping by growing the same crop year after year on the same land, causing soils to become depleted.

Several studies have found organically grown produce containing higher levels of nutrients such as vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and zinc and significantly less nitrates than conventional crops (2)(3)(4).

High nitrate intake may be problematic to health and is even associated with certain cancers (5).

Organic foods have also been shown to have higher concentrations of antioxidants, which are potent plant compounds that have been associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases (6).

What's more, the nutrient content of organically raised animal products have also been shown to provide different nutrient ratios.

For example, organic milk provides higher levels of omega 3 fats as well as vitamin E, iron, and carotenoids (7)

However levels of selenium and iodine were lower in organic compared to conventional milk (8).

Organic and grass-fed meat products have also been shown to provide more omega 3 and less saturated fat content while conventional meats typically contain higher omega 6 content (9)(10).

Omega 3 fatty acids are particularly anti-inflammatory and essential for good brain health, heart health, and growth and development.


Health impacts

We can't compare organic and non organic produce without addressing the topic of pesticides.

Buying non organic produce increases the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals such as pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and others. It also increases the risk of consuming genetically engineered foods.

Pesticide residue was found to be four times higher in conventional crops compared to organic (11).

Pesticides have been linked to many health problems including certain cancers, ADHD, autism, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and infertility (12)(13).

A study from France found that those choosing to consume a higher intake of organic foods compared to those who consume little to no organic foods, could reduce their cancer risk by 25 percent (14).

Though many will argue that just a little bit is fine, it's the chronic exposure that is repeated with time that makes a difference. This accumulative exposure to these chemicals can build up in the body causing problems over time, which doesn't impact just a few people.

More than 90 percent of the U.S. population has been found to carry detectable pesticides in their blood and urine (15).

Pesticide exposure has also been studied for fertility outcomes, and the results are rather concerning.

Higher consumption of pesticides in fruits and vegetables has been associated with a lower probability of pregnancy and live birth (16).

This particular study found that women who ate produce with high pesticide residue levels had a 26 percent lower risk of having a successful pregnancy when compared to women who ate cleaner produce.

Pesticide exposure from produce intake has been shown to impact male fertility as well. Around the world, declining fertility has been observed over the past few years as studies have shown a decline in male semen quality and sperm counts (16)(17).

There are several factors that may influence this trend however exposure of  higher levels of pesticides from fruits and vegetables has been associated with poorer sperm quality and reduced male fertility (18)(19).

In fact, sperm counts of men living in North America, Australia, Europe and New Zealand are said to have dropped 50 percent in less than 40 years (20).

Dietary and environmental exposure to pesticides within the range of typical human exposure may have a more significant impact on human reproduction than we once thought.

The good news is that you can decrease the risk of encountering these health problems by choosing to be conscious of what you consume. 


So what's the verdict?

Studies that have already been conducted do suggest that organic food may be more nutritious and contain lower levels of pesticides that are linked to health issues. Though more research is needed to compare the impact of conventional versus organic foods, for many people it is worth every penny to spend on organic food.

That doesn't mean that you need to go completely organic overnight or avoid all conventional fruits and vegetables. If you can't afford to go cold turkey, a good place to start is by following the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists in order to avoid crops with higher pesticide residue. 

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