A number of our readers would have heard about organic food but might not be exactly aware as to what it is. In a simple definition, organic foods are those that have been grown or farmed without the use of artificial chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, insecticides), hormones, antibiotics or even genetically modified organisms (GMO). In short, organic foods are derived from the ‘organic’ way by which they are produced.
In order to be labelled ‘organic’, a food product must be free of artificial food additives, which includes artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colouring and flavouring agents and monosodium glutamate (MSG).Organic crops are grown using natural fertilizers like manure and other such substances to improve plant growth. Animals raised organically are also not injected with antibiotics or hormones. The most commonly produced organic foods include fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. However today, there is also the advent of other processed organic products, such as cookies and breakfast cereals.
The bottom line
Evidence suggests that organic foods offer many health benefits. For example, several lab studies found that their higher antioxidant content helped protect cells from damage. Animal studies showed that organic diets may benefit human reproduction and the immune system. Besides, observational studies in humans have linked organic foods to lower the risk of allergies and eczema. In short, organic foods ensure that we are not eating a steady diet of pesticides and preservatives, which can have a long-term negative impact on our health.
Detailed health benefits of organic food
In the very way in which organic foods are produced/farmed, there is evidence that foods grown organically may be more nutritious. So here are some points on organic foods that empower human health.
Organic foods contain less chemicals with more bacteria-resistance
Because organic foods avoid artificial chemicals, evidence suggests that consuming these can reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. One study found that levels of cadmium, an extremely toxic metal, were 48 per cent lower in organic produce. In addition, pesticide residues were four times more likely to be found in non-organic crops.
Though cadmium and pesticide residue levels in conventionally-grown produce were still well below safety limits, experts caution that cadmium can accumulate over time in the body, causing potential harm. Also, since organic farming does not use antibiotics in animals, these products generally contain lower levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Inference: Organic foods can reduce exposure to toxins, pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Organic foods contain more nutrients
Several studies have revealed that organic foods generally contain higher levels of antioxidants and certain micronutrients, such as vitamin-C, zinc and iron. Also, antioxidant levels can be up to 69 per cent higher in these foods.
One study also found that organically-grown berries and corn contained 58 per cent more antioxidants and up to 52 per cent higher levels of vitamin-C. What's more, one study reported that replacing regular fruit, vegetables and cereals with organic versions could enrich the diet with extra antioxidants, which is comparable to eating 1-2 extra helpings of fruit and vegetables daily. Besides, organic plants produce more of their own protective compounds, which explains the higher levels of antioxidants in these plants, thereby obviating the need of chemical pesticides use on them.
Inference: Organically-grown crops have more antioxidants and vitamins that are good for health.
Organic dairy and meat carry a more favourable fatty acid profile
Organic milk and dairy products can contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and slightly higher amounts of iron, vitamin-E and some carotenoids. Moreover, a review found that organic meat contained higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and slightly lower levels of saturated fats than conventional meat. A higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with many health benefits, including reduced risk of heart diseases.
Inference: Organic dairy and meat can prevent the occurrence of heart ailments.
Organic foods have lower nitrate levels
As revealed by studies, organically-grown crops have as much as 30 per cent lower nitrate levels. High nitrate levels are not only linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer but also to a condition called methemoglobinemia, a disease that impacts the body's ability to carry oxygen.
Inference: Organically-grown crops can reduce the risk of lifestyle ailments like cancer.
Did you know?
Organic farming is good for the environment too as it tends to improve soil quality, helps in ground water conservation and contributes to reduce pollution.
How to identify organic foods
Go to any modern-day supermarket and you’ll find racks dedicated to organic foods. Pick up a pack and see if it has been labelled ‘Certified Organic’, or see if it has an appropriate equivalent seal, which means that it meets stringent requirements in terms of how it’s produced and processed. These include:
Organic whole foods are among the healthiest one can buy because they nourish our cells without dousing them in energy-lowering chemicals. However, one should keep in mind that the organic restrictions around pesticides and fertilizers don’t mean that farmers don’t use them at all. They do and it is just that the products have to be derived from natural sources and approved by certifying agencies. Hence, the takeaway is that even if your produce is organic, you still need to give it a thorough washing and cleaning before consumption.
Key take-home message
Organic foods can contain more antioxidants and nutrients than regular food, providing straightaway health benefits. Consuming organic food may also reduce exposure to artificial chemicals, hormones and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. So go ahead, include organic foods into your daily diet. Because watching what you eat ought to also include knowing what you eat ate!
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