Stalls piled high with vegetables labeled as organic are not uncommon, and more people are switching to foods that are supposedly free of pesticides. While many people doubt there is something behind the trend other than marketing, it appears that scientific evidence supports the idea that organic food is really healthier than common food sold at supermarkets.
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What is organic food?
To have the honor to be called organic, foods must be grown in accordance with a wide range of rules and standards. First, synthetic pesticides must not be used at all. Second, chemical fertilizers, growth hormones, and antibiotics are also banned. Third, genetic modification is not tolerated.
Growing organic foods is more difficult, as a farmer will have a limited arsenal of tools to protect crops and promote their growth in a natural way. That is why organic foods are usually much more expensive: growing them requires more time and more skills.
A team of European and American scientists decided to put an end to the never-ending debate on whether organic foods contain more nutrients than conventional ones. To do it, they collected and reviewed 343 studies that looked at organic food content. They found that there are more antioxidants (18-69%) in organic crops and foods based on them than in common foods.
However, it was not the only finding: according to the researchers, non-organic foods had more pesticides in them; besides, they were contaminated with cadmium, which is a toxic metal. The likelihood of containing cadmium was increased by 48% in the case of common foods. There were also higher nitrogen, nitrate and nitrite amounts (10%, 30% and 87% respectively). That being said, organic foods are better in terms of both nutritional value and safety.
Not so good
It is unknown whether a human body can actually use these extra antioxidants and make use of the abundance of nutrients organic foods provide.
Besides, some foods labeled as organic may turn out to be contaminated with pesticide residue, which gets there from soil or water or in the course of packaging.
When analyzing the studies, the researchers found that conventionally grown foods were 4 times more likely to be contaminated with pesticides, but the degree of contamination remained unknown.
Fierce debates on the issue of pesticide residue effects do not cease to rage, with common food proponents claiming the amounts found in such produce are not high and thus are safe to consume, and organic food advocates claiming consumption of non-organic foods can lead to a wide range of diseases. For example, cadmium is a toxic metal detected in cigarette smoke. If consumed, it can damage the liver and kidneys.
Non-organic veggies > no veggies
Consuming organic foods is the best option, should you want to avoid pesticide contamination. However, most people do not eat enough vegetables and greens on a daily basis, so increasing the share of healthy foods of at least decent quality – i.e. the ones bought at supermarkets and other places where food is stored according to the industry standards – is definitely a good step. Organic veggies are better than common veggies, but common veggies are better than foods rich in saturated fats and salt.
When buying organic foods, make sure they were grown in compliance with safety standards. As no chemicals are used, you should be even more careful when consuming organic foods, as there can be microorganisms, and not all of them are harmless.
When buying organic foods, make sure you will be able to eat them quite fast, as they cannot be stored for a long time – if the greens you bought at an organic shop a couple of weeks ago still look as if they have just been harvested, it’s kind of suspicious.