Why Organic Food is Healthier! Understanding the Benefits

Written by: Pard Bharaj

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Time to read 8 min

Introduction: What is Organic Food?


Organic food has become a household term, but what does it really mean? Let's delve into the definition and the criteria that classify food as organic.


  • Definition:¬†Organic food refers to agricultural products grown and processed without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilisers, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or ionising radiation. For animal products to be considered organic, the animals must be reared without the routine use of antibiotics and growth hormones.
  • Certification and Standards: In the UK, for food to be labelled as organic, it must meet strict regulations set by certifying bodies, such as the Soil Association or Organic Farmers & Growers. These standards cover every aspect of food production, from soil quality and animal welfare to the processing and packaging of the products.
  • Cultivation Practices:¬†Organic farming emphasises natural methods and cycles. This includes crop rotation, composting, and biological pest control, as opposed to relying on chemical inputs. The aim is to maintain ecological balance and conserve biodiversity.
  • Environmental Impact:¬†A significant aspect of organic agriculture is its reduced impact on the¬†environment.¬†By avoiding synthetic chemicals and emphasising soil health, organic farming can contribute to cleaner water, reduced soil erosion, and improved wildlife habitats

In this article we will explore the reasons why organic food is healthier. 

Brief Overview of the Trend in Organic Foods:


In recent years, the organic food sector has witnessed a significant surge in popularity. This growing interest is rooted in a widespread desire for healthier eating habits and a deeper understanding of where our food comes from. Below are some statistics related to this trend for UK/Europe:


  • UK Organic Market Value:¬†The UK's organic market reached a record value of ¬£3.1 billion in 2022, with a 1.6% growth in sales, leading to daily spending on organic products nearing ¬£8.5 million, as reported by the¬†Soil Association's Organic Market Report 2023.
  • Growth of Organic Farming in the EU: Organic farming in the EU has seen significant growth. Between 2012 and 2020, the share of agricultural land under organic farming increased by over 50%, with 9.1% of the EU‚Äôs agricultural area being farmed organically by 2020. This information was highlighted by¬†The Business Research Company.
  • Increase in Organic Producers in the EU:¬†The number of organic producers in the EU grew by 1.6% to 349,499 as of 2019. Accompanying this growth, the EU's organic retail market also saw a record growth of 15.1%, reaching 44.8 billion EUR, as detailed by¬†Organic in Europe.
  • Projected Growth of Europe's Organic Market:¬†The Europe Organic Food & Beverages Market is projected to grow from USD 123.78 billion in 2023 to USD 239.90 billion by 2028. This forecast, reflecting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.15% during the 2023-2028 period, was provided by¬†Mordor Intelligence.

Why are People More Interested in Organic Food?


  • Health Consciousness:¬†With an increased focus on health and wellbeing, people are more mindful of their dietary choices. Organic foods, perceived as free from synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, appeal to those seeking a 'cleaner' diet.
  • Environmental Concerns:¬†The environmental impact of conventional farming practices has led to a shift towards organic foods. These products are often associated with sustainable farming methods, which are considered more eco-friendly.
  • Quality and Taste Perceptions:¬†Many consumers believe that organic foods offer superior taste and quality compared to their non-organic counterparts. This belief, whether factual or perceived, drives interest in organic produce.
  • Marketing and Accessibility: The marketing of organic foods has become more prevalent, making them more accessible and visible to the average consumer.¬†
 A paper bag spills an abundance of nutrient-dense organic foods onto a vibrant green surface, showcasing a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables such as bananas, oranges, avocados, and tomatoes. Accompanying these are wholesome ginger root and crunchy pecans, reflecting a healthful and organic bounty.

Why Organic Food is Healthier:

Research Studies:


Numerous studies have been conducted to validate organic farming. For instance, research published in the "British Journal of Nutrition" analysed data from 343 peer-reviewed publications and found significant differences in composition between organic and non-organic crops and crop-based foods. Key findings include substantially higher concentrations of antioxidants such as polyphenolics in organic crops. For example, phenolic acids, flavanones, stilbenes, flavones, flavonols, and anthocyanins were estimated to be higher by percentages ranging from 19% to 69%. 


Additionally, the study noted that organic crops had a lower frequency of pesticide residues and significantly lower concentrations of the toxic heavy metals such as cadmium (Cd) compared to conventional crops.

table from the "British Journal of Nutrition" comparing the nutrient content between organically and conventionally grown crops. It lists three categories: Antioxidants, Cadmium Concentrations, and Pesticide Residues. For antioxidants, organic crops are noted to have higher levels, including compounds like polyphenolics, phenolic acids, flavanones, stilbenes, flavones, flavonols, and anthocyanins. Cadmium concentrations are lower in organic crops, noting that cadmium is a toxic metal. Lastly, pesticide residues are lower in organic crops, indicating organic farming practices lead to a lower incidence of these residues.

However, another systematic review published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which analysed data from studies comparing organic and conventionally grown food came to a different conclusion. The review included 17 studies in humans and 223 studies of nutrient and contaminant levels in foods. It concluded that there was little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods. While organic produce had a lower risk of detectable pesticide residues, the differences in nutrient levels, were not considered clinically significant.

Do Organic Foods Use Pesticides?


A common misconception is that organic farming does not use any pesticides. However, this isn't entirely accurate:


  • Natural Pesticides:¬†Organic farming does use pesticides, but these are typically derived from natural sources rather than synthetic chemicals. These natural pesticides are considered to be more environmentally friendly.
  • Regulated Use:¬†The use of pesticides in organic farming is heavily regulated. The substances used must meet specific criteria for environmental safety and biodegradability.
  • Integrated Pest Management:¬†Organic farmers often employ integrated pest management strategies, which focus on natural methods of pest control, such as encouraging beneficial insects, crop rotation, and using resistant crop varieties.

Is Organic Food Better for the Environment?


The impact of organic farming on the environment is a vital aspect of its appeal:


  • Reduced Chemical Usage: Organic farming minimises the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, leading to fewer pollutants entering waterways and soil.
  • Biodiversity: By encouraging a diverse ecosystem, organic farming can enhance biodiversity. This includes promoting a variety of plants and supporting beneficial insects and wildlife.
  • Soil Health:¬†Organic practices like crop rotation and the use of compost improve soil health and structure, enhancing its ability to retain water and nutrients.
  • Lower Energy Consumption:¬†Generally, organic farming uses less energy, mainly due to the absence of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides which require significant energy to produce.
  • Climate Change Mitigation: Organic farming has the potential to mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil. Healthy, organic soils can play a role in reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
A serene landscape bathed in the warm glow of sunrise, with sunbeams piercing through the branches of an overarching tree. The tree casts a gentle shadow over the lush, wild grasses and wildflowers, creating a tranquil and picturesque scene that embodies the peacefulness of a natural environment untouched by urban development.

Why is Organic Food More Expensive?


The higher cost of organic foods can be attributed to several factors:


  • Production Costs:¬†Organic farming practices, which often require more labour, management, and time, contribute to higher production costs. The use of natural fertilisers and pest control methods is generally more expensive than conventional methods.
  • Lower Yields:¬†Organic farms typically have lower yields compared to conventional farms, partly due to the prohibition of synthetic growth enhancers¬†and pesticides. This lower yield translates into higher prices for organic produce.
  • Certification Process:¬†Gaining and maintaining organic certification is a costly process. Farmers must adhere to strict standards and undergo regular inspections, all of which contribute to the overall cost.
  • Post-Harvest Handling:¬†Organic produce requires more careful handling and separate storage to avoid cross-contamination with non-organic products, increasing handling costs.
  • Supply and Demand:¬†As the demand for organic food grows, but supply remains relatively limited compared to conventional products, the prices tend to be higher.

Conclusion:


The scientific community appears to have a divided opinion on the nutritional superiority of organic foods. Some studies, like the one from the "British Journal of Nutrition," suggest that organic foods can have higher levels of certain nutrients, such as antioxidants. 


On the other hand, studies like the Stanford University meta-analysis and others indicate that there is little significant difference in the nutrient content between organic and conventional foods. This 50/50 balance reflects the complexity and variability of agricultural practices and the challenges in comparing organic and conventional farming methods on a broad scale.


Personal Opinon:


We must ask ourselves whether it is prudent to use chemicals in agriculture that have the potential to cause extensive environmental harm‚ÄĒimpacting animals, insects, and soil. Is it plausible that these chemicals, when they enter the food chain, would not have detrimental long-term effects on human health?¬†


Moreover, a question that often arises is about the natural growth environment of plants. If you were a plant, are you likely to grow stronger and healthier in a biodiverse setting, as nature intended, or when exposed to a plethora of harmful chemicals and pesticides? These considerations are important when debating the merits of organic versus conventional farming practices.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any specific fruits or vegetables that you would highly recommend consuming organically due to their conventional counterparts' high pesticide levels?

Yes, there are certain fruits and vegetables that are often recommended to be consumed organically due to their higher tendency to retain pesticide residues when grown conventionally. These are commonly referred to as the "Dirty Dozen," a list that is updated annually by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) based on pesticide residue testing. 


The list includes:


  1. Strawberries: Tend to have high levels of pesticide residues due to their porous surface and the intensive farming practices used.

  2. Spinach: Often has high pesticide residue, partly due to its large surface area and the common use of pesticides on leafy greens.

  3. Kale, Collard, and Mustard Greens: These leafy greens have been found to contain residues from potentially harmful pesticides.

  4. Nectarines: Their thin skin doesn't offer much protection from pesticides.

  5. Apples: Their popularity and year-round availability often mean they are treated with pesticides to prevent blemishes.

  6. Grapes: Due to their delicate nature, grapes are often treated with fungicides and other pesticides.

  7. Cherries: Like grapes, cherries often require pesticide use to maintain their appearance and yield.

  8. Peaches: Their soft skin and susceptibility to pests make peaches a candidate for pesticide use.

  9. Pears: Similar to apples, pears often have pesticide residues on their skin.

  10. Bell and Hot Peppers: These have thin skins that don't offer much protection from pesticides.

  11. Celery: Its structure allows it to retain a higher amount of pesticide residue.

  12. Tomatoes: Often have pesticide residues due to their susceptibility to pests.

It's important to note that the levels and types of pesticides used can vary based on farming practices, region, and regulations. Washing and peeling can reduce some of the pesticide residues but not all. If you're concerned about pesticide exposure, buying organic versions of these fruits and vegetables is a good practice. However, it's also essential to balance concerns about pesticides with the nutritional benefits of eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whether organic or conventionally grown.

Image of Pard, the Author

Author: Pard Bharaj

I am a dedicated researcher with nearly a decade of experience in investigating health best practices. My journey in the health and wellness field has been driven by a passion for understanding and sharing the most effective ways to maintain and improve health. Over the years, I have delved into a wide range of topics, constantly seeking out the latest research and insights. My commitment is to provide well-researched, accurate, and trustworthy information to help readers make informed decisions about their health.

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