If you are curious to find out whether Organic and Natural foods are worth spending so much money on, you aren’t alone. Once found only in exclusive health stores, today organically produced foods have found their way in to every grocery store, because of the many advantages they offer.
However, if you are in a dilemma because your best friend invests in only Organic and Natural foods and swears by it, while you have stuck to the more traditionally grown food for its cheaper rates, it is time to find out why Organic foods have caused such hype. Conventionally grown food is cheaper and more readily available, but should you ditch them for the more nutritious organic foods that offer more benefits?
What is Organic and Natural Food?
‘Organic’ refers to a way in which farmers grow as well as process food items like grains, legumes, fruits and vegetable and even meat and dairy. When a farmer chooses organic farming practices, he reduces pollution and encourages the conservation of soil and water. These farmers steer clear of any artificial or chemical based pesticides, additives or growth enhancing formulas. So unlike conventional framing where your food is contaminated with heavy pesticides or chemical growth enhancers, organic farmers choose methods like crop rotation and spreading of manure or mulch to have healthy growing foods. And when it comes to meat, Organic meats are healthier simply because the animals are fed an organic diet and aren’t given chemicals and medications for growth enhancement or prevention of diseases.
Is Organic the same as Natural?
Now, most people classify Organic and Natural in the same category of food. Agreed, they both are more beneficial for you as compared to regular conventional foods that may be contaminated with pesticides, chemicals and growth enhancers. But ‘Organic’ and ‘Natural’ are two different terms, and knowing the difference between the two will help you make an informed decision when you head out shopping.
Natural foods are those which promise to be grown in a natural way. Wild fruits, berries, meat of wild animals are all natural. But in other terms, when a manufacturer labels his food as ‘Natural’ what he means is that these food items are free of hormones, additives and preservatives.
But do not make the mistake of confusing ‘Natural’ with ‘Organic’. Only food that is grown and processed according to the USFD specifications and standards is ‘Organic’. And in the end, buying ‘Organic’ is a much safer bet than buying ‘Natural’ because there are no standards that measure or check the beneficial properties of these ‘Natural’ foods, unless of course, they are grown in your own kitchen garden.
Understanding the Labels
But how would you know if something you buy is Organic or Natural or neither? The answer is simple – read the labels. The USDA or US Department of Agriculture has established a special certification program that requires organic food producers to meet strict standards. And the Ministry of Agriculture in India has levied similar rules and follows the standards set by USDA. These rules take in to account not just growing the food items, but also the handling and processing.
– A label reading ‘100% Organic’ means that the product is completely Organic, made of all organic ingredients and processed and packed in an organic manner.
– A label reading ‘Organic’ must be 95% Organic, but can use 5% conventional ways whether it is in ingredients or the method of processing.
– A label reading ‘Made with Organic ingredients’ is about 70% Organic in nature, but cannot use the USDA approved seal as it contains a few organic ingredients and a few conventional ones.
Advantages of Choosing Organic Foods
1. Safer – We all know that pesticides and harsh chemicals aren’t good for us. And sometimes, even after you have washed your fruits and vegetables well before cooking or eating, the pesticides find their way in to our systems. While research isn’t clear on whether these foods are more nutritious or not, in the end we all know that choosing something that is all ‘Natural’ poses fewer health risks.
2. Better tasting – Lovers of Organic food swear by the fact that organic fruits and vegetables taste better. Sounds unbelievable? Well, in 2001 a study done in Washington State University revealed that organically produced apples had a better texture than those grown conventionally and were also sweeter. So the deal is that these organic foods aren’t just good for your health, they are better for your taste buds too!
3. Environmentally friendly – In an age when we all want to do out bit to save our planet, choosing Organic and Natural food is another step you take towards a greener tomorrow. Organic farms use lesser energy, produce lesser waste and create much lesser pollution as compared to regular conventional farms because they don’t use environmentally hazardous pesticides and insecticides.
But, is Organic Worth the Price Tag?
A research conducted by University of Aix-Marseille for the AFSSA or French Food Agency revealed that organically produced food is more nutritious and much superior to conventionally produced foods. the study was published in a journal named Agronomy for Sustainable Growth and the researcher was quoted saying,” This critical literature review indicates that organic agriculture, as developed until now, has the potential to produce high-quality products with some relevant improvements in terms of anti-oxidant phytomicronutrients, nitrate accumulation in vegetables and toxic residue levels”.
But a study done by United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency or FSA stated that there was no difference in the nutritional quotient of organically produced food and non- organic produce. At London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, researchers revealed that people just pay higher prices for organically produced food because they believe it to have more health benefits. But a systematic study done by them on 162 scientifically published papers in the last 50 years revealed that there is no significant difference between the nutritional value of organic and natural foods as compared to conventionally grown food items.
So now the question arises, is Organic and Natural food more nutritious than conventionally grown food despite its higher prices? The answer is probably not, because scientific research is still unclear on this debate. But choosing Organic and Natural food is definitely a better option because these food items are safer and more holistic in nature.
If you aren’t that worried about the price tag, choosing Organic is a healthier choice – and that means healthy for both you and the environment. People who buy organic are seeking assurance that food production is gentle to the earth, and are often looking for safer, purer, more natural foods. But are organic foods really worth the added expense?
“There is no evidence that organic foods are superior over traditional foods”, says Dr. Keecha Harris from American Dietetic Association. And she is right to quite some extent – Food does not have to be organic in order to be safe and environmentally friendly. If you focus on eating food grown close to where you live and respect seasons to only include seasonal vegetables and fruits in your diet, there is no reason why you would expose yourself to harmful pesticides or preservatives.
In fact, some organic foods come from multinational companies and have been trucked across the country. So while they would be deemed ‘Organic’, they result in more environmental footprint as lots of petrochemicals are used in transportation. On the other hand, if you buy produce from your local farmers market, it may not be organic but it is farm-fresh and less impactful on the environment. Plus, it’s also a lot more affordable since you will only find seasonal produce at farmers markets, as opposed to the exotic fruits and vegetables you find in grocery stores all year round.
So, the final question is: Organic or Local? Should you choose affordably priced local food that comes from nearby farms and hence is fresh and nutritious? Or should you shop at organic stores to buy food that may be organically produced, but in some other part of the country (or even continent for that matter) and gets transported all those miles to lose out on freshness and as a result gets a hefty price tag? You decide.