Is Organic Food More Nutritious? Here’s the Real Deal
Published | 5 min read
Is organic food really better for you, or is it all mostly hype? Read on to educate yourself and make the best decision for you and your family.
Companies are racing to offer products labelled “organic” and touting the health benefits, hoping that this will increase the perceived value of their product. But are all organic foods always better than their non-organic counterparts?
There is no conclusive evidence to show whether organic food is better for health or not. Your body is capable of dealing with both natural and synthetic compounds in tiny amounts present in food.
There is also not much evidence that organic food contains more nutrients than non-organic ones. However, we’ve done the research so that you can make an informed decision.
What is Organic Food?
The term “organic food” refers to how the food was grown, cultivated, or raised. Specifically, organic food derived from plants or farm animals must not have been grown or cultivated using synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, or hormones at levels deemed harmful to humans.
Organic farming also refers to practices that are environmentally and socially sustainable. By purchasing genuinely organic food, you are directly supporting sustainable farming that’s better for our planet and future generations.
Obtaining certification allows a company to label their product as organic for sale in a particular region or country. In North America, the authority for organic certification is the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture).
In Malaysia, we have the Malaysian Organic Scheme (SOM) established in 2001. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industries rebranded it to myOrganic in 2015.
A product may also be certified organic at its source. For example, the company bio.inspecta certifies Swiss-made Biotta Digest Juice, containing plums, prunes, and other fruits to help regulate digestion, 100% organic. This is according to European Union standards. The juice is also available in other parts of the world, including Malaysia.
Benefits of Organic Food
Organic farming is not a new thing. Our ancestors had been organic farmers for a long time because it is a safe and sustainable way of producing food.
Free from pesticides
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition shows that conventionally grown crops are four times more likely to have pesticide residue than organically grown crops. High levels of pesticide residue links to health risks such as a higher incidence of ADHD in children and lower quality sperm in men.
Fruits like apples and strawberries are better organic, as their non-organic counterparts are notorious for carrying a lot of pesticide residue.
When it comes to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), herbs like panax notoginseng that are no longer sourced in the wild may be better with an organic label. Do note, however, that even herbs grown in designated no-pesticide regions cannot be guaranteed to be fully free of toxins, as it will depend on the soil conditions which can change, and may have other chemicals added during the processing and packaging phases.
There is increasing evidence that some organically grown produce like cow milk, soybeans, and onions end up with higher concentrations of nutrients.
Meanwhile, the organic cultivation of herbs for medicinal purposes may sometimes be necessary. This is because one must source certain herbs from particular geographical regions, as is the case for TCM herbs. But judging the quality of a TCM herb involves more than its organic label. It is best for consumers and TCM physicians to work with reputable suppliers who can ensure the quality of their herbal products.
Organic farming practices are also much more sustainable than conventional farming for farmers, consumers, and the environment alike.
The organic farmer isn’t solely focused on the highest yield but instead balances financial sustainability with social and environmental sustainability. This ensures biodiversity and fertile soil for future farming, as well as safety for their workers and consumers.
A Guide on Buying Organic Food
It is worthwhile to know how to discern genuine organic food labels from misleading ones. The next time you go shopping for organic food, keep the following tips in mind:
- Check the latest Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen guides by the Environmental Working Group to see which foods are best organic and which foods are clean and safe regardless of whether an organic label is present.
- Carefully read product labels to understand what exactly is organic about the food. Sometimes the facility in which they package the food is certified organic, but not necessarily the food itself.
- Consider calling the certifying body indicated on the product packaging to check if the food company really did obtain their organic certification.
- Buy fruits and vegetables in season. This makes it more likely that the farmers didn’t need to use pesticides or preservatives.
- When buying TCM herbs, work with a trusted brand and authority.
Generally, organic food is a better option because it is cleaner and free from pesticides. Companies that care for their soil, land, water, and workers, also produce organic food, making food production sustainable for the future. However, many foods are equally nutritious regardless of their organic status. Before your next shopping trip, do your research to ensure you’re getting quality food.
This is an adaptation of an article, “有机真的比较好？ / Is Organic Really Better?” which first appeared on Health 123 website.
- Organic Trade Association (OTA). 2021. Health Benefits of Organic. [Accessed 7 December 2021].
- The British Journal of Nutrition. 2014. Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. [Accessed 7 December 2021].
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2017. Higher Antioxidant Activity, Total Flavonols, and Specific Quercetin Glucosides in Two Different Onion (Allium cepa L.) Varieties Grown under Organic Production: Results from a 6-Year Field Study. [Accessed 7 December 2021].
- Environmental Health. 2015. Association of pyrethroid pesticide exposure with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in a nationally representative sample of U.S. children. [Accessed 7 December 2021].
- Human Reproduction. 2015. Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic. [Accessed 7 December 2021].
- GSC Biological and Pharmaceutical Sciences. 2019. Traditional Chinese medicine and agriculture; organic life and sustainability for future. [Accessed 7 December 2021].
- Environmental Working Group. 2021. Over 90 Percent of Non-Organic Citrus Fruits Contain Fungicides Linked to Cancer and Hormone Disruption. [Accessed 7 December 2021].
- Acupuncture Today. 2014. Pesticides and Chinese Herbs: Understanding the Issues. [Accessed 7 December 2021].
- Academy of Oriental Medicine Austin (AOMA). Herbal Pharmacy: Quality Control, Regulations, and Best Practices. [Accessed 18 January 2022].