Organic Foods

By-Meena Ganagani,Practicing Clinical Nutritionist,Mumbai.

India is bestowed with lot of potential to produce all varieties of organic products due to its various agro climatic regions. In several parts of the country, the inherited tradition of organic farming is an added advantage. This holds promise for the organic producers to tap the market which is growing steadily in the domestic and export market.

What is Organic Food?

Organic products are grown under a system of agriculture without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides with an environmentally and socially responsible approach. This is a method of farming that works at grass root level preserving the reproductive and regenerative capacity of the soil, good plant nutrition, and sound soil management, produces nutritious food rich in vitality which has resistance to diseases.(1)

The USDA definition of organic food states that: Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bio-engineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too. (2)

The difference between Organic farming and Conventional farming (3)

Conventional farming Organic farming
Use synthetic or chemicals during production and processing of farm produceChemicals are avoided in production and processing of farm produce, instead, farmers use manure or compost to nourish soil and promote growth
Use of pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, other chemicalsEnvironmentally friendly and free of anti-biotics
Growth hormones, antibiotics and other medications to improve growth and prevent disease outbreakAnimals roam freely and feed strictly on organic foods
Use of insecticides to eliminate pest outbreaksRelies on birds and insects to get rid of pesticides or pesticides from natural sources
Use of chemical herbicides for weed controllingCrop rotation, use of mulch or hands to  control weed  

The benefits of Organic Food

Organic foods often have more beneficial nutrients, such as antioxidants, than their conventionally-grown counterparts and people with allergies to foods, chemicals, or preservatives often find their symptoms lessen or go away when they eat only organic foods.

Organic produce contains fewer pesticides.-Chemicals such as fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides are widely used in conventional agriculture and residues remain on (and in) the food we eat.

Organic food is often fresher-because it doesn’t contain preservatives that make it last longer. Organic produce is often produced on smaller farms near where it is sold.

Organic farming is better for the environment-Organic farming practices reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and use less energy.

Organically raised animals are NOT given antibiotics, growth hormones, or fed animal byproducts. Feeding livestock animal byproducts increases the risk of mad cow disease (BSE) and the use of antibiotics can create antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Organically-raised animals are given more space to move around and access to the outdoors, which help to keep them healthy.

Organic meat and milk are richer in certain nutrients. Results of a 2016 European study show that levels of certain nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, were up to 50 percent higher in organic meat and milk than in conventionally raised versions.

Organic food is GMO-free. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or genetically engineered (GE) foods are plants whose DNA has been altered in ways that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding, most commonly in order to be resistant to pesticides or produce an insecticide. (4)

Health Benefits of Organic Food

Organic products reduce public health risks to farm workers, their families, and consumers by minimizing their exposure to toxic and persistent chemicals on the farm and in food, the soil in which they work and play, the air they breathe, and the water they drink. Children are especially vulnerable to pesticides. Thus, offering organic food and fiber products into the marketplace gives parents the option of choosing products produced without the use of these toxins.

Not only does organic production help reduce public health risks, mounting evidence shows that food grown organically are rich in nutrients, such as Vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus, with less exposure to nitrates and pesticide residues in organically grown fruits, vegetables, and grains when compared to conventionally grown products.(5)

Food safety tips

Whether you go totally organic or opt to mix conventional and organic foods, be sure to keep these tips in mind:

  • Select a variety of foods from a variety of sources-This will give you a better mix of nutrients and reduce your likelihood of exposure to a single pesticide.
  • Buy fruits and vegetables in season when possible- To get the freshest produce, ask your grocer what is in season or buy food from your local farmers market.
  • Read food labels carefully- Just because a product says it’s organic or contains organic ingredients doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthier alternative. Some organic products may still be high in sugar, salt, fat or calories.
  • Wash and scrub fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water-Washing helps remove dirt, bacteria and traces of chemicals from the surface of fruits and vegetables, but not all pesticide residues can be removed by washing. Discarding outer leaves of leafy vegetables can reduce contaminants. Peeling fruits and vegetables can remove contaminants but may also reduce nutrients.(6)

Organic agriculture aims to preserve natural resources, support animal health and welfare, and avoid most synthetic materials. The USDA regulates the organic industry with strict standards. The soil where crops are grown must be inspected and shown to be free of most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and the crops cannot have been genetically modified. Animals raised on organic farms receive no antibiotics or growth hormones, are given feed that has been grown organically, and are able to roam around outside. Processed organic foods must not contain synthetic additives.

The USDA then certifies organic crops, animal products, and processed foods. Only foods that are 95% organic can carry a “USDA Organic” seal. (7)

References:

  1. http://apeda.gov.in/apedawebsite/organic/Organic_Products.htm
  2. https://www.medicinenet.com/what_is_the_definition_of_organic_food/views.htm
  3. https://www.thediabetescouncil.com/organic-foods-vs-regular-conventional-food-what-is-the-difference/
  4. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/organic-foods.htm
  5. https://ota.com/organic-101/health-benefits-organic
  6. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/organic-food/art-20043880
  7. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-go-organic

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