Is Organic Food Better for you?
Organic food has differences to conventional food in term of safety, micronutrients and health. The popularity of organic foods continues to increase and there is an intuitive argument to eating organic food: it is easy to believe that fewer chemicals in your food mean better health. At the diet-whisperer, we explore all about nutrition, weight loss and the benefits of healthy eating. But do the facts about organic food bear this out?
What is Organic Food?
Organic is a system of farming and food production. It embraces the production of high-quality food, using methods that benefit the entire ecosystem-people, animals, plants and the planet.
In organic farming, certain chemicals are banned-synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilisers and weedkillers. The routine use of antibiotics in animal feed and growth enhancers is prohibited. Animal welfare is a key aspect of organic farming and every aspect of animal welfare is included.
Why eat organic food?
Who wants to pee out pesticides? Makes you feel uneasy even thinking about it. Motivations to eat organic food include the potential health benefits, avoiding pesticides and eating more nutritious foods. But there are additional benefits to eating organic food. Wildlife flourishes, farmers benefit with less exposure to chemicals and animals are treated more humanely. Organic practices help to create sustainable farming, which benefits the environment and our fragile planet.
Avoid chemicals by eating organic
The chemicals used in conventional but not organic farming include synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilisers, weedkillers and antibiotics. Public opinion is focused on the safety and the impact pesticides and weed killers have both on us and the environment. 1 Organic biopesticides are allowed in some organic foods and they may have their own potential for harm.
Pesticide exposure, linked to higher risks of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and certain types of cancer exposure, is reduced if you eat organic food. Organophosphorus pesticides are excreted in the urine and can be tracked by measuring chemicals in the urine.
One study measured these chemicals in the urine of 150 people. The study found that there were significantly lower concentrations of chemicals in people who ate organic food compared to those who did not. Other studies have replicated these findings. So, if you want fewer pesticide chemicals in your body-you need to eat organic food. 2,3
One of the most worrying of the chemical additions in conventional but not organic farming, is the routine use of low dose antibiotics. Conventional farming uses 80% of all antibiotics sold in the USA for farm animals! Antibiotics in low doses act as growth enhancers and antibiotic residue is retained in conventionally raised stock, pigs, chicken and cattle. When you eat this food, you are eating antibiotic residues. Yuck.
The more that antibiotics are used, the less effective antibiotics become, due to drug resistance. Using antibiotics in low doses, over long periods of time gives bugs the perfect opportunity to develop resistance to the antibiotics themselves. Once bugs are resistant to antibiotics, the bugs have the upper hand and this causes major problems for both doctors and patients. So serious is the problem, that the World Health organisation has described antibiotic resistance as one of the biggest threats to global health. The WHO has called for the routine use of antibiotics in animals to cease. 4
Improved Nutrition with Organic
Organic food is more nutritious than conventional food. There is an increase in micronutrients, which include polyphenols and omega-3s with healthier fat profiles in organic animal products. 3,5
Eating organic foods gives you more polyphenols, or plant antioxidants, particularly eating organic fruit. The increase in polyphenol concentration in organic food compared to conventional food ranges from 26–69%. 5
Omega-3s, polyunsaturated unsaturated fatty acids, reduce the risk of heart disease and are also important in children’s development. Two meta analyses of the existing evidence shows that organic diary has a higher omega-3 content compared to conventional dairy. 6
Organic meats have a better fatty acid profile compared to meat from conventional farms. There are higher levels of healthy polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3s and lower proportions of saturated fat. A recent study showed that organic beef had 17% less cholesterol, 32% less fat and 170% more omega-3s compared to conventional meat. 7
Better Health with Organic
There is yet no consensus on the overall health benefits of organic foods.5,8 Conflicting results mean that the experts disagree, and this has allowed the argument between organic versus conventional food to continue. But gradually, evidence as to the benefit of organic food is emerging, the tide is turning, and it is time to have another look.
The potential health benefits of organic versus conventional food include a lower risk of eczema, lower risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, reduced risk of pre-eclampsia, better metabolism with reduced risk of metabolic syndrome, and lower risk of overall cancer
Reduction of Cancer Risk
Cancer, a leading cause of death worldwide is increasing, and the rates are rising. External agents, such as chemical carcinogens are recognised to be a major factor in the development of certain cancers.
Glyphosate or roundup is widely used in agriculture and has the highest worldwide usage of any pesticide. It has been labelled by the WHO as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ and there is ‘strong evidence for genotoxicity’. As organic food does not contain synthetic pesticides, we expect and hope to see a reduced risk of cancer if organic food forms part of our diet.
In a study, involving 68,946 people, the amount of organic food eaten was compared to the development of cancer over a 7-year period. The greater the dietary proportion of organic food eaten, the lower the overall risk of cancer but the risk reduction was small. Another large study, in the UK, over a 9-year period of 623,080 women, showed a reduced risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in those who ate organic food. There was however no effect on the rates of overall cancers. 9
Reduction of Metabolic Diseases
Metabolic syndrome is a constellation of disorders of your body chemicals, leading to long-term ill-health. It is associated with belly fat and predisposes to diabetes, heart disease and dementia. A useful test for metabolic syndrome is the hip/waist ratio, which you can check using the calculator on our website.
A total of 8174 participants were evaluated for the presence of metabolic syndrome and this was compared to their organic food consumption. The greater the amount of organic food eaten, the smaller the chance of metabolic syndrome. People who eat organic food have better metabolism than those who do not and therefore have a lesser risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and strokes. 10
Recent studies have contributed hugely to the existing knowledge of the benefits of organic food. 8–10 It has been shown that better health is associated with eating organic food, with reduced risk of overall cancer and metabolic diseases. These conditions are the scourges of the modern world and a switch to organic might save us all and our beautiful planet. Some people argue that organic farming and organic food is not worth the additional cost. We think that polluting our bodies, animals and the planet with chemicals is a cost, disease is a cost; spread the word, go organic.
- Organic food is free from synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilisers and weedkillers
- Organic farming is a system of farming where the whole ecosystem benefits
- The heart of organic farming is soil preservation
- There is conflicting scientific data as to the health benefits of organic food
- A recent study large population study has shown health benefits of organic food versus conventional food
- Eating organic food compared to conventional food has been shown to reduce the rate of overall cancer, metabolic syndrome, and the pesticide chemicals in urine
- More research is needed to support the health benefits of organic food
At Whisperer HQ, we believe in the benefits of organic food, not just for ourselves but for the planet, for wildlife and for animals. If you enjoyed this article why not try our books, or test your health knowledge further with our health quiz?
1. European Environment Agency. Late Lessons from early Warnings: Science, Precaution, Innovation: European Environment Agency: Copenhagen, Danmark, 2013.
2. Baudry J, Debrauwer L, Durand G, Limon G, Delcambre A, Vidal R, Taupier-Letage B, Druesne-Pecollo N, Galan P, Hercberg S, Lairon D, Cravedi JP, Kesse-Guyot E. Urinary pesticide concentrations in French adults with low and high organic food consumption: results from the general population-based NutriNet-Santé. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2019 Apr;29(3):366–378.
3. Barański M, Srednicka-Tober D, Volakakis N, Seal C, Sanderson R, Stewart GB, Benbrook C, Biavati B, Markellou E, Giotis C, Gromadzka-Ostrowska J, Rembiałkowska E, Skwarło-Sońta K, Tahvonen R, Janovská D, Niggli U, Nicot P, Leifert C. Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. Br J Nutr. 2014 Sep 14;112(5):794–811.
4. World Health Organisation. July 2020
5. Glibowski P. Organic food and health. Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 2020;71(2):131–136.
6. Palupi E, Jayanegara A, Ploeger A, Kahl J. Comparison of nutritional quality between conventional and organic dairy products: a meta-analysis. J Sci Food Agric. 2012 Nov;92(14):2774–81.
7. Średnicka-Tober D, Barański M, Seal C, Sanderson R, Benbrook C, Steinshamn H, Gromadzka-Ostrowska J, Rembiałkowska E, Skwarło-Sońta K, Eyre M, Cozzi G, Krogh Larsen M, Jordon T, Niggli U, Sakowski T, Calder PC, Burdge GC, Sotiraki S, Stefanakis A, Yolcu H, Stergiadis S, Chatzidimitriou E, Butler G, Stewart G, Leifert C. Composition differences between organic and conventional meat: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr. 2016 Mar 28;115(6):994–1011.
8. Vigar V, Myers S, Oliver C, Arellano J, Robinson S, Leifert C. A Systematic Review of Organic Versus Conventional Food Consumption: Is There a Measurable Benefit on Human Health? Nutrients. 2019 Dec 18;12(1):7
9. Baudry J, Assmann KE, Touvier M, et al. Association of frequency of organic food consumption with cancer risk [published online October 22, 2018]. JAMA Intern Med. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.4357
10. Baudry J, Lelong H, Adriouch S, Julia C, Allès B, Hercberg S, Touvier M, Lairon D, Galan P, Kesse-Guyot E. Association between organic food consumption and metabolic syndrome: cross-sectional results from the NutriNet-Santé study. Eur J Nutr. 2018 Oct;57(7):2477–2488.