Image by Unsplash | Christian Holzinger
There’s been a long running debate about whether organic food is any healthier than its non-organic counterpart, and it’s time to set the record straight.
But first, let’s talk about what makes a food product “organic” in the first place.
What Does “Organic” Really Mean?
“Organic” is a term that refers to how agricultural products are grown or raised and processed. In Canada, the organic label is governed by strict standards and regulations.
In order for a food product to be labeled “organic,” it must be grown or raised and processed without the use of synthetic chemicals or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Artificial sweeteners, colours, flavours, and preservatives are also prohibited. Animal farmers must also avoid the routine use of antibiotics and hormones.
“Organic” also refers to the methods of agricultural production. Organic farmers ensure they are sustaining soil health and supporting surrounding ecosystems with proper crop rotations and by using organic compost materials like manure.
It’s quite a lot different from how conventional farmers grow and raise their food products. As a result, there are key nutritional differences between organic and non-organic food.
Is Organic Food Any Healthier?
While there’s a lot of conflicting evidence floating around about whether organic food is really more nutritious than non-organic food, these mixed results, according to Healthline, are likely due to differences in food handling and production.
So putting that aside, let’s look at the hard facts: Organic food is generally healthier than non-organic food. But why?
Well, eating organically reduces your exposure to artificial ingredients like synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, food additives, and growth hormones and antibiotics. That’s one part of the equation.
The second part comes from what’s actually in the food, rather than what’s been avoided in production and processing.
Studies have shown that organic food has significantly higher concentrations of certain nutrients, namely antioxidants and micronutrients like vitamin C, zinc, and iron. This means that calorie for calorie, organic food provides more heart-healthy and cancer-fighting properties.
Is it really that simple? Yes and no. In general, choosing organically grown and raised food means choosing the healthier option, but the differences vary between food products. For instance, some crops contain more chemical residues than others so going organic with those items has a bigger health benefit. You can find out which foods have the highest levels of pesticide residues by checking out the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen list compiled by the Environmental Working Group.