Is eating organic really better?
The pros and cons to eating organic
Organic foods are often promoted as the superior option by wellness and “clean-eating” gurus, yet are those pesticide, hormone, and antibiotic free foods truly “healthier” or simply a fast-track to shopping-induced stress and a direct route to eating into your overdraft and food budget?
What are the differences in nutritional content?
Consumer polls illustrate that the expectations concerning health effects of organic foods are the primary motive for people to buy organic products, however, there appears to be little scientific proof to substantiate these expectations.
A number of studies demonstrate that organic produce can have a marginally level of certain nutrients (i.e organic dairy products typically have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids) , yet often the nutritional differences are so minor they don’t really make a great deal of difference.
Additionally, while the pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics frequently cited to be present in conventional foods are demonised, there are few human studies to support adverse health effects. Most of the research has been conducted in animals, and while you may occasionally feel as rough as dog our bodies metabolise and break down foods and certain compounds quite differently .
What are the health effects of eating organic foods?
Whether organic foods confer more optimal health in contrast to conventional foods also hinges on how we define “health” and “health effects”. If the “health effects” of food are understood as their power to positively (and significantly) prevent or improve disease status or markers (e.g. improve immune system, fertility, hormone health, etc), then there is little evidence to suggest that organic foods have an advantage over their conventional counterparts.
Moreover, research appears to conclude that consumers who prefer organic food typically have healthier diet patterns over all – such as eating more fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, and a lower consumption of red meat . Consuming a varied diet rich in the above has long been associated with a decreased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Therefore, individuals who eat organic foods may not necessarily be considered “healthier” due to eating organically, but healthier because they already actively engage in other health and wellness practices – so eating organically is simply complimentary as opposed to causing any monumental health improvements or increased longevity.
It’s similar to trying to determine if someone who practices yoga regularly, for example, is healthier by virtue of their practice or healthier because yoga is another tool in their self-care armoury and complements other health-affirming actions (e.g. eating mindfully, taking time for meaningful connection, other joyful movement, etc).
What about environmental health?
However, despite the lack of evidence to prove that organic foods are substantially better for you and will cure each and every aspect of your life that ails you, studies suggest that consuming organic foods may be better for the environment and planetary sustainability.
Choosing to eat organically often also entails eating locally grown produce, thereby reducing your carbon footprint, cutting out travel, and reducing the likelihood that foods have been forced to grow out of season.
The dietary patterns and choices of who chose to eat organic foods seem to align fairly closely with the recently determined Planetary Health Diet, with a lower dietary carbon footprint in regards to energy and water consumption, land use, and greenhouse gas emissions .
Pesticide-free facts – the take aways
- There appears to be little significant difference in the nutritional content between organic foods and conventional foods.
- Organic foods do not appear to offer greater health effects – overall lifestyle is more impactful.
- Eating organically / locally may prove to be more environmentally sustainable and better for planetary health.
Charlotte Munro, BSc
EHL Team x
- Huber, M et al (2011), ‘Organic food and impact on human health: Assessing the status quo and prospects of research’, NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, 58(3), pp.103-109. doi: 10.1016/j.njas.2011.01.004
- Mie, A et al (2017), ‘Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture: a comprehensive review’, Environmental Health, 16 (1111), pp. 1-22. doi: 10.1186/s12940-017-0315-4