Over the past two decades, organic foods have become more and more popular. In an effort to explain why organic food is better, let's look to a quick statistic: in 2020, the U.S. spent $56 billion on organic produce - but does that make it better, or does that make it a trendy movement?
The popularity of organic foods is not slowing down, as their purchase has increased in number by almost 13% since 2019. So why organic food is better? Well, it comes down to the basics of what humans need to thrive, and organic food is arguably healthier, safer, and more delicious than conventionally grown food.
Need even more reasons why organic food is better? It's also way better for the environment, and the well-being animals. So far it sounds like everyone wins!
This article is opening the discussion of why organic food is better through explaining the differences between organic and non-organic food, their nutritional content, and how they affect human health.
What Is Organic Food?
Before we can dive right into why organic food is better, let's first define what qualifies as "organic food."
Organic refers to the way certain foods are grown. Organic food is grown or farmed without the addition of:
genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Organic food products must not contain artificial food additives in order to be labeled organic. These include artificial sweeteners and preservatives, color, flavoring, or any monosodium glucose (MSG), which explain right away, just a few quick reasons why organic food is better.
Organically grown crops use natural fertilizers such as manure to increase plant growth and organically raised animals aren't given hormones or antibiotics. Organic farming can also improve soil quality and conserve groundwater, which is less polluting and better for the environment.
Fruits, vegetables, grain, milk products, and meats are the most popular organic foods consumed. There are also processed organic products, such as cookies, sodas, and meat substitutes.
Why Organic Food is Better Pertains to Having More Nutrients
There have been mixed results in studies comparing the nutritional content of organic and nonorganic foods, but this could be due to natural variations in food production and food handling. That said, evidence suggests that organic foods are healthier.
So what makes them more nutritious?
Organically Grown Crops are Richer in Vitamins and Antioxidants
Numerous studies have shown that organic foods contain higher levels and specific micronutrients such as Vitamin C and Iron. Why organic food is better points directly to the fact that these foods can actually have antioxidant levels up to 69% greater than non-organic foods.
For example, a 2003 study revealed that corn and organic berries contained 58% more antioxidants. One study found that organic fruits, vegetables, and cereals could be more antioxidant-rich than regular ones. This is comparable to eating an additional 1-2 portions of fruits and vegetables per day.
Organic plants don't rely on pesticide sprays to protect them, which means that they produce more of their protective compounds, such as antioxidants, hence why these plants have such higher levels of antioxidants and why organic food is better.
Nitrate Levels are Generally Lower
It has been proven that organically grown crops also have lower levels of nitrate. Studies have actually shown that the nitrate levels in organically grown crops are 30% lower. A higher risk of certain types and forms of cancer are associated with high nitrate levels. Nitrates are also associated with methemoglobinemia (a condition in infants that reduces the body's ability of carrying oxygen).
Some Organic Dairy Products and Meats May Have a Better Fatty Acid Profile
Organic milk and dairy products might contain higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as slightly more iron, Vitamin E and other carotenoids. Organic milk may have less selenium or iodine that non-organic milk. These two minerals are vital for your health.
A review of 67 studies revealed that organic meat had higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and lower levels of saturated oils than traditional meat. Higher intakes of Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to be associated with many health advantages, including a lower risk of developing heart disease, further proving why organic food is better.
On the flip side, variations in animal genetics, animal breed, diet, time of year and type of farm can have an impact on the composition of milk products and meat. Comparisons are difficult because of the natural variations in food production and food handling.
Less Chemicals and Bacteria Contribute to Why Organic Food is Better
Organic food is preferred by many people who want to avoid the use of artificial chemicals and additives, and these foods are a good choice to reduce your exposure. A study showed that organic produce had 48% less cadmium than non-organic produce. Pesticide residues were also four times more common in non-organic plants.
It is important that you note that conventionally grown produce still contained lower levels of pesticide residue and cadmium than the safety limits. Some experts are concerned that cadmium could build up in the body over time, potentially causing damage. Washing, scrubbing, peeling, and cooking food can reduce these chemicals, although it doesn't always remove them completely. However, there is evidence that pesticide residues in food are unlikely to cause any harm.
How Are Organic Foods Good for Your Health?
The debate around why organic food is better relates to mounds of evidence that suggests that organic foods have ample health benefits. Numerous studies have shown that higher levels of antioxidants can help protect cells against damage, and also show that organic diets can benefit reproduction, the immune system, better skin, and growth of hair and nails.
Not all Organic Foods are Nutritious
A product being labeled organic does not necessarily mean it is nutritionally dense, which is something to keep in mind when considering why organic food is better. These processed products may still contain high amounts of calories, sugar, and salt.
Organic cookies, chips, and sodas should be eaten in moderation. These products may include "cleaner" ingredients than non-organic brands but can still have low nutrients, even though they are organic. When choosing foods, it may be better to make a decision based on your nutritional needs and the vitamins, minerals, and caloric value your body will benefit from.
How Do You Know if You're Purchasing Organic?
The Organic Certification Program has been established by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This means that any farmer or food processor selling organic food must adhere to strict government standards in providing a specific quality of foods they produce so that consumers can maintain their confidence in why organic food is better.
It is important to search for the USDA Organic seal if you're choosing to buy organic. You should also be on the lookout for these statements regarding food labels so that you can identify organically grown food:
100% Organic: This product uses only organic ingredients.
Organic: Minimum 95% of this product's ingredients are organic.
Organic ingredients: Minimum 70% organic.
A product that contains less than 70% organic ingredients cannot be labeled as organic or use the USDA certified organic seal. Similar standards are in place in Australia, Canada, Europe and Canada. To help consumers identify organic foods, each country or continent has its unique seal.
We hope this helps to bring more clarity to the debate of why organic food is better, or if it is at all. Mission Organics' primary "mission" is to education on the health benefits and to serve up organic certified foods in our cafe to further promote our community's ability to live a healthy lifestyle. Stay healthy, friends.