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Organic Vs Non-Organic Foods: Pros And Cons And Which One Is Better

The global marketplace of organic foods has grown drastically over the last few decades with around 80 billion Euros spent every year on organic products, says a study.

A data report by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and IFOAM Organics International has shown that there is an increase of 14.7 per cent organic farmland between the year 2014-2015, with a total of around 50.9 million hectares. [1]

The increasing popularity of organic foods has led to several households changing to organic produce and meat for their families, in an attempt to live healthy and more active lives. It goes without saying that factors such as personal health and environmental concerns are the primary reasons for this change.

Not only are organic foods free from artificial plant additives, but these are also cultivated in a healthy way. Also, people think that organic foods have a superior nutritional profile compared to non-organic foods. But, is it true?

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In this article, we will discuss organic vs non-organic foods and which one is better. Take a look.

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What Is Organic Food?

Organic foods relate to agricultural produce and elements grown without the use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified organisms, sewer sludge or radiation. In the case of animals and cattle that produce meat, eggs or dairy, the term ‘organic' refers to those not given antibiotics or growth hormones.

In simple terms, organic foods are grown or manufactured in eco-friendly manners. For example, plants are not treated with toxic substances or harmful chemicals to boost growth and genetically modified organisms are not fed to animals and are given organic feeds.

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These strict cultivation and husbandry practices make organic food safer and chemical-free, thus ensuring safety for people worldwide.

Pros of organic food

  • According to a study, organic foods contain higher antioxidants, especially polyphenols in organic crops; high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in organic dairy, and improved levels of fatty acid in organic meats. [2]
  • They have lower levels of toxic metals such as cadmium, and other harmful chemicals like pesticide residues.
  • Their consumption may cause reduce exposure to resistant bacteria which have become immune to antibiotics.
  • Organic farming practices may help reduce environmental pollution and enhance soil and water quality and promote natural livestock behaviour.

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Cons of organic food

  • Not all food labelled ‘organic' is considered healthy. For example, if cookies are made from organically produced flour, along with a high amount of organically grown sugar, they would still be unhealthy due to the high content of sugar, calories and fat.
  • Because of its strict farming norms, labour and time-intensive production, post-harvest procedures and accreditation fee, organic foods may be expensive than non-organic foods.
  • While organic foods are safer for consumption because of their cultivation and processing techniques, these contain substances exactly like traditional or non-organic foods. Thus, conditions like food allergies can be triggered upon consumption of organic foods as such factors are dependent on certain proteins in the foods, and not due to the artificial chemicals.
  • Organic food does not decrease the risk of certain chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes as there is just a little variation in terms of nutrients like protein, fat, carbohydrate and dietary fibre. Therefore, high consumption of organic foods may lead to increased weight, in the same manner as high consumption of non-organic foods.
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What Is Non-organic Food?

Non-organic food refers to food products such as fruits, vegetables and meats that are grown using synthetics such as pesticides, insecticides and chemical fertilisers. Also, it includes meat products that are modified at a genetic or molecular level by the producers.

Non-organic foods are grown through non-organic farming in which the producer can even cross-breed crops to produce fruits and vegetables with high qualities. However, they are allowed to do it under the acceptable levels as per the norms of the government.

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Pros of non-organic food

  • The use of synthetic material to grow non-organic foods help prevent the growth the potentially harmful moulds and bacteria.
  • Many studies conclude that the nutritional profile is non-organic foods is almost the same as those of organic foods.
  • The levels of pesticides in many fruits and vegetables grown non-organically are limited and pose no threat to human health.
  • The limited pesticides in non-organic food items also don't interfere with the nutritional profile of the food items.
  • Inorganic foods ensure food products of high quality, long self-life and at a convenient price.
  • Farmers who do non-organic farming ensure the safe and responsible use of pesticides and fertilisers due to the government safety thresholds or say, using synthetic products up to certain levels that cause no harm to humans.

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Cons of non-organic food

  • Long-term consumption of non-organic foods can cause endocrine problems and neurotoxicity. [3]
  • Long-term use of pesticides can increase the number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • Pesticides in non-organic foods can lead to increased risk to certain cancer types such as leukaemia, prostate, lungs, breast and skin. [4]
  • Inorganic farming can increase environmental pollution levels due to pesticides residues.
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Which Is Better?

Evidence from the aforementioned points indicates the mixed results. This is because, suppose a person is allergic to nuts, then both organic and non-organic peanuts may still cause the same level of allergy upon consumption.

Also, the slight difference in the nutritional profile of organic and non-organic foods does not make people always choose one over another.

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However, after weighing the pros and cons, people may agree to the fact that organic foods could be better than non-organic foods as the prior is obtained in a natural way, which will always prove to be beneficial for our health.

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Some Important Factors To Consider

  • Buy fruits and vegetables in their specific season.
  • Try to buy from the local farmers.
  • Pick foods from a variety of sources so that you won't be exposed to a single pesticide.
  • Read ingredients and their quantity carefully as some organic foods also contain a high amount of sweeteners, fat, colourings, monosodium glutamate, flavourings and calories.
  • Wash foods in running water to remove some pesticides particles.
  • Discard the leaves of the leafy greens to reduce a certain amount of contamination.
  • Avoid using poultry or meat products if you notice any skin discolouration or lesions in the skin.

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Common FAQs

1. Is organic food actually better for you?

From a certain perspective, organic foods are actually better for human health. Organic foods are natural, grown without the use of harmful pesticides and contains more antioxidants and certain vitamins and fatty acids, compared to non-organic foods.

2. How does organic and non-organic food differ?

Organic foods contain no pesticides, grown naturally, do not pollute the environment and contain high levels of macronutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. On the other hand, non-organic food is grown using pesticides up to certain levels, may pollute the environment with their long-term usage and contains micronutrients such as proteins, fats and fibre almost in a similar quantity as organic foods.

3. Is organic food healthier than non-organic food?

Researchers are still in a dilemma whether organic food is better or non-organic food. This is because both have some pros and cons. However, organic food is given more importance as it is grown naturally and will always be healthy for people when consumed in an adequate amount.