Is Organic Food Worse For You

Many people buy organic food hoping to feel healthier, and potentially have a positive impact on the environment. But are organic foods even better for you and the environment in the first place?

Organic Food

For plants, the term organic basically means something grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, but this is a little bit misleading. You see, many consumers buy organic to avoid pesticides all together, but the truth is, organic farmers can still use pesticides and fungicides to prevent insects from destroying their crops, they just can’t be synthetically made. There are over 20 chemicals approved for organic use in the US derived from natural sources like plants, but studies have shown that some natural pesticides are actually a more serious health and environmental risk than man-made ones. Not to say they are all bad, but simply that, ‘natural’ doesn’t always mean better for you or the environment.

On top of this, not all organic foods are completely organic. If a label simply says ‘organic’ it only has to contain 95% organic ingredients. The label “made with organic ingredients” on items like bread may only contain 70%, while “containing organic ingredients” may only have 50%. Only when a label says “100% Organic” does it contain purely organic ingredients. For what it’s worth, the term “free range” also only requires evidence of access to the outdoors for a minimum of 5 minutes per day. Huh!

Interestingly, a meta-analysis conducted in 2012 found that organic crop yields are 25% lower on average than conventional ones, though differences vary greatly between types of crops. For example, organic vegetable yields are typically 33% lower than conventional ones, putting a greater strain on the natural environment as more farmland is required.

However, organic legume yields are only 5% lower, as they are more efficient at absorbing nitrogen from organic fertilizers. Of course, many organic farming practices like crop rotations and mixed planting as opposed to using mono-cultures

are better for the soil and the environment.

But are they better for you? After analyzing 237 studies, researchers concluded that organic fruit and veggies are no more nutritious than conventionally grown food. 

However, long-term studies of purely-organic diets are difficult, as most people eat a mixture of foods with non-organic ingredients.

Those on short-term organic diets do show higher levels of carotenoids, polyphenols, Vitamin C and E, LDL cholesterol, antioxidant activity, immune system markers, and ever higher semen quality. But, the differences are clinically insignificant. Children placed on organic diets for ten days have lower levels of organophosphates in their urine, which in higher concentrations are associated with neurological problems, but both levels are orders of magnitude lower than the amount needed to cause clinical harm. And just because something is organic, doesn’t make it better. An bag of organic chips, for example, is still just deep fried carbohydrates with very little nutritional value.

Most surprising is that organic food has a higher incidence of being dangerous. Though organic foods accounts for only 1% of agricultural acreage or space, they account for 7% of recalled food units in 2015. For example, this year several flavours of Clif Bars were recalled from stores due to organic sunflower kernels

that were potentially contaminated with listeria- a bacterium which kills hundreds in the US each year. Another study found E.coli in 10% of organic produce, compared to 2% in conventional ones.

The truth is, eating organic foods can be good for you, and in some ways be better for the environment, but it’s not the be all and end all. Production methods vary greatly for both organic and conventional foods, from one farm to another - or from local farms to factory farms - and it’s likely a combination of methods that will lead to the greatest results for your health and the environment.

Organic and conventional foods can co-exist and don’t have to be at odds with one another - anyone who tells you with 100% certainty one way is fully better than the other is ignoring the science.

When it comes to your own health, it’s really a combination of diet, exercise, various other lifestyle choices, and of course, your genetics!