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Organic food has become quite the buzzword in the healthy eating market. But is it healthier than the normal fruits and veggies that we have?

Over the years we have been made to believe that eating organic food is healthier than conventional food. Does that mean organic food is more nutritious than conventional food? Let’s find out!!

What is Organic Food?

Organic foods are foods that are produced using natural farming processes and techniques. Organic food is produced without any use of pesticides, herbicides, inorganic fertilisers and animals do not receive any antibiotics, animal by-products or growth hormones. Organic food is more costly because these natural farming techniques are more expensive than the conventional ones. 

organic food
You are what you eat. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

The notion that organic food is healthier indeed has some merit. There is not much difference between organic and conventional food products in terms of macro nutritional value (protein, fat, carbohydrate and dietary fibre), but there are few other compositional differences mentioned below which have been observed and might be beneficial.

  1. High on antioxidants: Organic fruits and vegetables have higher phenolic compounds (antioxidants).
  2. High on Omega-3 fatty acids: Organic dairy products and meats have a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids compared to conventional products. 
  3. Low on toxic metals: Organic foods have been shown to have lower levels of toxic metabolites, including heavy metals such as cadmium, and synthetic fertilizer and pesticide residues.
  4. Consumption of organic foods may also reduce exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

However, these differences are of marginal nutritional significance. The above potential benefits of organic foods may reduce the risk of allergic disease and of overweight and obesity, but the evidence is not conclusive enough as consumers of organic food mostly tend to have healthier lifestyles overall.

Despite the health benefits, the big question is, are foods labelled as ‘organic’ more nutritious?

The answer is ‘Not always!’.

Just because a product is labelled ‘organic’, it does not mean that it is also nutrient dense. Even though they are a better option compared to the non-organic counter parts. Some of these products are still highly processed foods which are high in calories, added sugar, salt, and added fats. For example, items such as organic cookies, chips and ice cream despite being organic, these products may still be quite low in nutrients.

When making the choice of what to eat, first know your nutritional requirements and accordingly choose the foods as per the macro nutrient (carbohydrate, protein, fats, dietary fibre) and micro nutrient (minerals and vitamins) content of the food, rather than on the basis of organic versus conventional. 

organic food
Add colours to your plate! Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Whether you go totally organic or opt to mix conventional and organic foods, be sure to keep these tips in mind:
  1. Select a variety of foods from a variety of sources. This will give you a better mix of nutrients and reduce your likelihood of exposure to a single pesticide.
  2. Buy fruits and vegetables in season and buy local produce.
  3. Read food labels carefully. Just because a product says it’s organic or contains organic ingredients doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthier alternative. Some organic products may still be high in sugar, salt, fat or calories.
  4. Wash and scrub fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water. Washing helps remove dirt, bacteria and traces of chemicals from the surface of fruits and vegetables.

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