Organic Vs. Non Organic
Organic Vs. Non Organic
What does organic actually mean? What are the benefits? DediKate Nutritionist Amy takes us through an interesting and sometimes confusing topic!
What is Organic Food?
Organic food is fresh or processed food produced by organic farming methods (1) including:
- Using compost and animal manures as fertilisers
- Non chemical sprays to kill weeds
- Biological methods to control pests
- Stock is fed organically
The organic food market has grown into a multibillion dollar industry, with increased demand seemingly being driven by a more nutritionally conscious, environmentally aware and overall well being concerned consumer. With this being said, organic also seems to have gained a reputation for being over priced and elitist. It is true that organic food can be much more expensive than non-organic, but is it worth it?
Whilst we might feel comfortable for richer folk to throw money away on something that ‘may’ be more healthy, how do we feel about those less fortunate that ‘may’ be reducing their health with every bite of non-organic food? Or is it one big marketing ploy designed to separate worried, health concerned families from more of their hard earned cash?
Turns out increasingly the question of ‘to organic or not to organic’ is an ethical one!
Organic food is food produced through organic farming methods which are believed to be better for the environment, the animals and for health. However, not everyone is convinced. With lots of health, environmental and ethical concerns at stake it is important to answer the question...should we be eating organic?
Does Organic Food Taste Better?
Now, to start on a slightly lighter but extremely important note nonetheless. Does organic food even taste better?
Many of us would probably pay that bit extra for tastier food. Whilst many people report that they do prefer the taste of organic food, what does the research say?...
One study got people to taste test tomatoes, labelling them organic or non-organic. The participants tended to agree that the organically labelled tomatoes tasted better...however the sneaky researchers had changed the labels around! Meaning that you are more likely to perceive an organically labelled tomato as tastier just because it is labelled organic (2).
Another study compared the taste of different fruits and vegetables and found no difference between people's preference for either organic or non-organic. With one exception, people tended to prefer non-organic tomatoes (3)!
Research does not support that organic food tastes better. However food preference is very individualised so only you can tell what tastes best for you.
Does Organic Food Contain More Nutrients?
Plant Based Food
Some believe that organically grown fruits and vegetables are higher in nutrients than non-organic due to healthier and more nourishing soil but what does the research say?...
- In 2009 a review of 55 different studies found no difference between organic and non-organic crops in vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc, copper, and polyphenolic compounds (active compounds often providing antioxidant-like health benefits) (4).
- In 2012 a review of 223 studies also found no difference in many different nutrients between organic and non-organic foods (5).
- Although another review of data in 2012 found that vitamin C was higher in organic foods compared to non-organic, and antioxidant content was around 12% higher in organic foods (6).
- In 2014 a review of 343 studies found that organic crops had around 17% higher antioxidant content than non-organic and generally higher vitamin C levels (7)
Meat and Dairy
Some believe that organically bred animals have more nutrient dense meat due to eating more natural animal feed but what does the research say?...
- A 2016 review of 170 studies found that organic milk contained higher polyunsaturated fats, omega-3, vitamin E and iron than non-organic milk. However organic milk was lower in iodine and selenium (8). These differences aren’t thought to be large enough to impact health.
- A 2016 review of 67 studies comparing the nutritional value of organic and non-organic meat found that organic meat was on average 23% higher in polyunsaturated fat and 47% higher in omega-3 fat (9).
It is thought that organic animal products have a more favourable fat composition due to the animals diet, e.g. grass feeding, and not necessarily other organic practises.
Organic plant based foods probably have a higher antioxidant content and may be higher in vitamin C than non-organic foods. All other nutrients seem to be somewhat similar. Organic animal products tend to have a higher polyunsaturated fat and omega-3 fat content than non-organic. This is likely due to the animals being grass fed.
Does Non-Organic Food Cause Cancer?
Non-organic crops have 4-5 x the levels of pesticide than organic crops (5, 7)! Although, this makes sense as non-organic farming allows the use of these chemical pesticides. BUT, is it safe for human consumption?
There is a set ‘maximum residue level’, or maximum pesticide amount, that all non-organic food has to comply with. This maximum level should always be way, way lower than any amount that has been found to have side effects. However some believe that a build up of these pesticides overtime can cause cancers, but what does the research say?...
- A study of 600 thousand women followed for 9 years found that breast cancer risk was increased but non-Hodgkin's lymphoma risk was decreased in those eating organic food (10).
- A study looking at 69 thousand people found reduced amounts of cancer in those that ate organic, particularly lower incidence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (11).
- Long term exposure to chemical pesticides in agricultural workers has long been associated with increased risk of cancers (12).
It’s not quite that simple though (this is nutrition, it never is right!)...
- People who eat organic food tend to be healthier in many other aspects of their lives and therefore could just generally be less likely to get cancer.
- There is tonnes of research showing that cancer risk is reduced in those that eat lots of fruit and vegetables, regardless of whether it’s organic or not.
- Agricultural workers are exposed to pesticides in much larger and more concentrated amounts than those that eat non-organic food. So this doesn’t prove that non-organic food causes cancer per say. Although this is terrible for some ill equipped workers.
Non-organic food has much higher levels of pesticide than organic but is regulated to stay within a suggested safe intake. However some research has found a reduced risk of cancers in those that eat organic produce. It’s difficult to say whether this is due purely to eating organic or for other reasons too. One thing we are sure of is that eating fruits and veggies is very good for you!
Let’s Sum It Up
Organic food is food produced by organic farming methods thought to be better for the environment and health. It does cost a bit more though! Whether it is worth the extra cost is a personal decision as the jury is still out on many of the long term benefits of eating organic. Organic food doesn’t appear to taste better than non-organic. Organic food probably has some nutritional benefits such as increased antioxidant, vitamin C and polyunsaturated fat content. There is some evidence that cancer risk can be reduced with increased organic food intake however we need more research to be sure on that one. It is likely that a diet high in fruits, vegetables and other nutrient dense foods is more important for overall health than simply choosing organic. However choosing organic plant based foods or at least grass fed meats if you are able to, is likely a good idea for extra health benefits.
DediKate nutrition services include; weekly educational nutrition videos, ongoing email support for members and a live weekly question and answer session. All with our DediKate Nutritionist Amy.
Join DediKate for your FREE two week trial today to get the most out of our nutrition offerings!