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12 Key Benefits of Organic Food

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FACT CHECKED
  Published on March 16th, 2022
  Reading time: 7 minutes
  Last modified March 16th, 2022
Organic food has many benefits

Is organic food overrated hype, or are there valid reasons to go organic? Are the countless health experts and advocates and foodies embellishing going organic? Is their advice to buy organic when it’s affordable and available to you well-founded? Let’s delve into the details of organic, the possible benefits of organic food, and the movement behind it.

What Does Organic Mean?

In relation to agriculture and food or farming methods, organic refers to food that was produced without the use of synthetic chemical pesticides, fertilizers, or other artificial substances.

In other words, organic refers to the process of growing, producing, and harvesting food as nature intended using only natural fertilizers and substances rather than man-made chemicals. This would include traditional indigenous agricultural farming practices and regenerative agriculture.

What Are the Benefits of Organic Food?

Proponents of going organic as much as possible point to various benefits. Here are some of the potential benefits of purchasing organic food:

Soil Health

Organic farming preserves soil fertility and biodiversity while preventing soil erosion. It also reduces contamination of the water supply from toxic runoff, which is one of the problems associated with factory farms and mass feedlot operations.

Organic farmers use natural soil amendments and fertilizers like compost, organic matter, and green manures. Food grown in healthy, nutrient-dense soil is better able to survive drought, resist disease, and tolerate insects.

Taste

Anecdotal evidence overall shows organic food taste better, but, of course, taste is individual and subjective. Some people claim the higher amount of nutrients in organic food somehow makes it taste better, but it’s all a matter of opinion.

No Synthetic Pesticides

Generally speaking, organic food has little to no pesticides, insecticides, fungicides, and weedkillers because, in order to be certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), farmers can’t spray synthetic chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and other substances. Organic farming is strictly regulated and monitored. Some organic farmers use pesticides derived from natural substances, but these are also strictly monitored and approved for organic production. The general rule is that synthetic materials are prohibited, and natural substances are allowed, with a few exceptions.

One impressive study followed families eating a 100% organic diet and revealed a significant reduction in their exposure to four classes of pesticides by an average of 60% over six days. [1]

Nonorganic crops are sprayed with pesticides during growth

No GMOs

Genetically modified foods (GMOs) have been approved for human consumption for quite a few decades now, but they aren’t allowed in organic products. An organic farmer can’t plant GMO seeds, and an organic cow can’t eat GMO corn or alfalfa. An organic sauce producer can’t use GMO ingredients.

GMO doesn’t refer to natural plant crossbreeding; rather, it refers to the man-made process where manufacturers engineer an organism’s genetic material in a laboratory to eliminate or introduce specific qualities. Crops like corn and canola for oil have been genetically engineered to be more resistant to pests and herbicides. [2]

While advocates preach about GMO safety, critics have raised questions and concerns about their long-term negative impact on public health, the environment, property rights, food safety, and crop contamination.

No Artificial Preservatives

Certified organic food also can’t include artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives, so the food is cleaner, and many argue it’s also healthier. 40 synthetic substances are an exception to this and are allowed in organic packaged foods. [3] In comparison, thousands of chemicals can be added to conventional packaged foods, including artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives that have been linked to health issues. Some proponents of the organic movement are working to change this so that absolutely no artificial substances are allowed under any circumstances.

Overall, going organic gives you access to food that is much closer to what is found in nature. You can always check the ingredients and become familiar with what you do and don’t want to consume. As always, the less processed and packaged foods and the more natural whole foods you consume, the better for your health.

More Natural Agricultural Farming Practices

Harvesting organic produce on a farm

Buying organic and supporting the organic movement supports the use of more natural agricultural farming practices. Methods like genetic engineering, sewage sludge, and irradiation are prohibited from being used when growing, producing, or processing organic foods. For example, irradiated food is exposed to intense ionizing radiation, which breaks chemical bonds to reduce microorganisms. Wellness enthusiasts point to the lack of long-term data on the safety of food irradiation.

Better for the Environment

Organic farming and regenerative agriculture can increase the carbon-carrying capacity of the soil and restore crucial nutrients to depleted soil. Grass-fed cattle and diverse organic produce can help the soil sequester more carbon and offset greenhouse gas emissions. Research shows organic farms release 40% fewer carbon emissions, foster 30% more soil biodiversity, and use 45% less energy. [4] [5] Locally grown produce also generally has a lower carbon footprint. [6]

Friendly for the Birds and Bees

Organic farms protect bees and wildlife from toxic chemicals. Some scientists and environmental activists believe large-scale, chemically intensive agricultural production is a major threat to pollinators.

Friendly for the Farmworkers

Farmworkers have a heightened risk of exposure to agricultural pesticides and the possible adverse health effects. Neighboring communities might also experience pesticide drift and exposure near a large farm.

Possible Reduced Risk of Cancer

More research is needed, but some studies show those who ate organic foods regularly lowered their overall risk of developing cancer, more specifically postmenopausal breast cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. [7]

The commonly used herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) has been classified as a probably human carcinogen. Studies also suggest pesticide residues at levels commonly found in the urine of children in the United States could contribute to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). [8]

More Healthy Fats

Organic meat and dairy products can have around 50% more healthy omega-3 fatty acids compared to conventionally produced products, according to an interesting study in the British Journal of Nutrition. [9] [10]

More Nutrients

More research is needed, but growing studies conclude organic food might have higher levels of antioxidants and important micronutrients.  [11] [12]

For example, three studies examined the nutrition profiles of organic blueberries, kiwis, and strawberries compared to their non-organic counterparts. The studies concluded organic strawberries and kiwis had higher antioxidant activity and higher levels of vitamin C and the study on blueberries showed organic blueberries had higher levels of total phenolics, anthocyanins, and more antioxidant activity. [13] [14] [15]

Organic fruits have more vitamins and minerals

A report reviewing 41 published studies comparing the nutritional value of conventionally and organically grown grains, fruits, and veggies showed that overall, there were drastically more of several nutrients in organic crops. The results were impressive, with 27% more vitamin C, 29.3% more magnesium, 13.6% more phosphorus, and 21.1% more iron. [16]

Another report from 2008 showed that, on average, organic foods contain a 25% higher concentration of 11 nutrients compared to conventional foods. [17] A study from the University of California, Davis, showed organic tomatoes had 79% more quercetin and 97% more kaempferol aglycones (advantageous flavonoids) compared to conventional tomatoes. [18]

Studies on organic milk yield the same results with higher levels of antioxidants and beneficial fatty acids like conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and omega-3 fatty acids. One such study reported that, on average, organic milk yielded 68% more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional milk. [19]

How to Go Organic

Among the many reasons and benefits people list for going organic are: 

  • Soil health
  • More nutrients
  • Cleaner food without the use of synthetic pesticides and chemicals and processes like irradiation
  • Better for the environment, farmers, and birds and bees
  • Avoiding or limiting unknown long-term health consequences of GMOs and chemical pesticides
  • Closer to nature and indigenous agricultural farming practices
  • More healthy fats
  • Possible reduction in cancer risk
Avocados not grown organically don't absorb as many pesticides as some other produce

There’s also the clean fifteen and dirty dozen – a guide by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that lists the fifteen foods that are cleanest to buy conventionally grown and the twelve foods that are best to buy only organic because they may contain higher levels of pesticides. 

Foods with a thicker skin, such as avocados, have a greater protective barrier and are easily peeled, so the skin can be removed and less pesticides get into the flesh. Foods like strawberries and spinach are not peeled before eating and don’t have a protective coating, so organic food proponents believe more pesticides are absorbed and therefore consumed.

While it’s undeniable that organic food is more expensive than conventionally grown, there are some ways to make organic food cheaper, such as buying in bulk from stores like Costco or visiting your local farm and asking the farmer if they will cut you a deal if you buy in bulk as a repeat customer. Farmer’s markets often have affordable prices for locally grown organic foods. You could even grow some of your own organic food in your garden or start with some simple organic herbs on your porch or patio!

Do you eat organic on keto? Share your thoughts on organic food with the keto community!

References

1.

Hyland, C., Bradman, A., Gerona, R., Patton, S., Zakharevich, I., Gunier, R. B., & Klein, K. (2019). Organic diet intervention significantly reduced urinary pesticide levels in U.S. children and adults. Environmental Research, 171, 568-575.

2.

McHughen, A. (2013). GM crops and foods. Biotechnology in Agriculture and the Food Chain, 4(3), 172-182. https://doi.org/10.4161/gmcr.26532

3.

The Code of Federal Regulations. National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, eCFR :: 7 CFR Part 205 Subpart G -- Administrative

4.

Rodale Institute. Farming Systems Trial, Farming Systems Trial - Rodale Institute

5.

Bengtsson, J., Ahnstrom, J., & Weibull, A-C. (2005). The effects of organic agriculture on biodiversity and abundance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Ecology, 42, 261-269.

6.

Regeneration International. Why Regenerative Agriculture? Why Regenerative Agriculture? - Regeneration International

7.

Baudry, J., Assmann, K. E., Touvier, M., Alles, B., Seconda, L., Latino-Martel, P…Kesse-Guyot, E. (2018). Association of frequency of organic food consumption with cancer risk: Findings from the nutriNet-Sante prospective cohort study. JAMA Intern Med, 178(12), 1597-1606. DOI:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.4357

8.

Bouchard, M. F., Bellinger, D. C., Wright, R. O., & Weisskopf, M. G. (2010). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and urinary metabolites of organophosphate pesticides. Pediatrics, 125(6), e1270-e1277. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2009-3058

9.

Srednicka-Tober, D., Baranski, M., Seal, C. J., Sanderson, R., Benbrook, C., Steinshamn, H…Leifert, C. (2016). Higher PUFA and n-3 PUFA, conjugates linoleic acid, a-tocopherol and iron, but lower iodine and selenium concentrations in organic milk: A systematic literature review and meta-redundancy analyses. British Journal of Nutrition, 115(6):1043-60. DOI: 10.1017/S0007114516000349.

10.

Srednicka-Tober, D., Baranski, M., Seal, C., Sanderson, R., Benbrook, C., Steinshamn, H…Leifert, C. (2016). Composition differences between organic and conventional meat: A systematic literature review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Nutrition, 115(6):994-1011. DOI: 10.1017/S0007114515005073.

11.

The Organic Trade Association & The Ohio State University & Penn State. United States Organic Trade Data: 2011 to 2016, OTATradeReport_10-30-2017.pdf

12.

Ren, F., Reilly, K., Kerry, J. P., Gaffney, M., Hossain, M., & Rai, D. K. (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. J Agric Food Chem, 65(25), 5122-5132. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jafc.7b01352

13.

Reganold, J. P., Andrews, P. K., Reeve, J. R., Carpenter-Boggs, L., Schadt, C. W., Alldredge, L. R…Zhou, J. (2010). Fruit and soil quality of organic and conventional strawberry agroecosystems. PLOS One, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0012346

14.

Colelli, G., Amodio, M., Hasey, J., & Kader, A. (2007). A comparative study of composition and postharvest performance of organically and conventionally grown kiwifruits. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 87(7):1228-1236, DOI: 10.1002/jsfa.2820

15.

Bernuy, B., Meurens, M., Mignolet, E., & Larondelle, Y. (2008). Performance comparison of UV and FT-Raman spectroscopy in the determination of conjugated linoleic acids in cow milk fat. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 56(4), 1159-1163.

16.

Worthington, V. (2001). Nutritional quality of organic versus conventional fruits, vegetables, and grains. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 7(2), 161-173.

17.

Benbrook, C., Zhao, X., Yanez, J., Davies, N., & Andrews, P. (2008). New evidence confirms the nutritional superiority of plant-based organic foods. The Organic Center State of Science Review, Nutrient_Content_SSR_Executive_Summary_FINAL.pdf (panna.org)

18.

Mitchell, A. E., Hong, Y-J., Koh, E., Barrett, D. M., Bryant, D. E., Denison, R. F., & Kaffka, S. (2007). Ten-year comparison of the influence of organic and conventional crop management practices on the content of flavonoids in tomatoes. J Agric Food Chem, 55(15), 6154-9. DOI: 10.1021/jf070344+

19.

Ellis, K. A., Innocent, G., Grove-White, D., Cripps, P., McLean, W. G., Howard, C. V., & Mihm, M. (2006). Comparing the fatty acid composition of organic and conventional milk. Dairy Sci, 89(6), 1938-50. DOI: 10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(06)72261-5.

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