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With organic foods flooding our grocery stores and our conversations, the natural question is whether we should go organic and if it’s truly healthier. Let’s take a step back and understand what this label truly means.

 

The term ‘organic’ refers to how food is grown. The aim is to preserve natural resources, support animals and avoid most synthetic additions. Organic foods are grown without the use of artificial fertilizers, chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for the most part. They should also exclude additives such as flavouring and colouring agents. Organic foods are grown in soil enhanced with organic matter and natural mineral fertilizers, along with a few approved synthetic fertilizers as well.

 

Let’s take a look at both sides of the story to understand things better.

 

Benefits of Organic Foods

  • Organic plant foods may have higher polyphenols, plant compounds with antioxidant properties
  • Organic dairy and meat have greater omega-3 fat content
  • Pesticide residue is lower in organic crops. Conventional crops are four times higher in pesticide residue
  • Contamination from organic fertilisers is lesser. Conventional crops have significantly higher concentrations of the toxic metal Cadmium
  • Resistant bacteria, and its associated diseases, is marginally for organic meat

 

Possible Concerns

  • The nutrient profile of organic plant products is similar to that of conventional products
  • For fruits and vegetables, both organic and conventionally grown variants may contain significant sources of resistant bacteria

 

Note that naturally occurring pesticides such as copper, sulphur and pyrethrins may affect the environment when used in large doses. However, this is rare since pesticide levels in food is tightly regulated, and very rarely are these levels crossed.

 

Let’s look at some more information on this buzzword.

 

Washing fruits and vegetables helps reduce pesticide levels. However, removing the peel from conventionally grown produce, where a lot of the pesticides are concentrated, can reduce pesticide exposure. Unfortunately, this also ends up removing a significant chunk of nutrients, which isn’t ideal. Additionally, resistant bacteria in both organic and conventionally grown foods can be reduced by cooking properly.

 

Keep in mind that the term ‘Organic’ is typically used for single ingredient products, whereas ‘Certified Organic’ is used for multi-ingredient products that have minimum 95% of the ingredients of organic origin. Additionally, look out for an organic logo from the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI), along with the FSSAI logo license number. The label may also carry the India Organic Logo (NPOP certified) or PGS-India Organic Logo (PGS-India certified), under whichever system it’s certified.

 

In summary, there’s insufficient data to show that organic foods have a clinically relevant nutritional advantage over conventional foods. That being said, organic foods definitely have lesser exposure to pesticides and may reduce diseases associated with antibiotic resistance.

 

References:

  1. Smith-Spangler C, et al. Ann Intern Med.2012 Sep 4;157(5):348-66.
  2. Mie A, et al. Environ Health. 2017; 16: 111.
  3. Jukes TH, et al. CRC Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr.1977;9(4):395-418.
  4. Magkos F, et al. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr.2006;46(1):23-56.
  5. Holzman DC, et al. Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Dec; 120(12): a458.
  6. Österberg J, et al. PLoS One. 2016; 11(6): e0157049.
  7. Ruimy R, et al. Environ Microbiol.2010 Mar;12(3):608-15
  8. Tang KL, et al. Lancet Planet Health.2017 Nov;1(8):e316-e327.
  9. Mukherjee A, et al. J Food Prot. 2004 May;67(5):894-900.
  10. Bahlai CA, et al. PLoS One. 2010 Jun 22;5(6):e11250.
  11. Barański M, et al. Br J Nutr. 2014 Sep 14; 112(5): 794–811.
  12. Jayaraj R, et al. Interdiscip Toxicol. 2016 Dec; 9(3-4): 90–100.
  13. Galgano F, et al. Cogent Food Agric, 2016 Feb 12; 2(1): 1142818.

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