Organic food or organic food have boasted of a higher nutritional quality. However, the evidence in this regard is scant.
In recent years, organic food, "bio" food or "organic" food has become fashionable. Or, in other words, their consumption has exploded exponentially with various promises that are often related to each other in a confusing way.
Although it is true that organic foods or with the "eco seal" require stricter control by the health authorities, since without certain requirements it is not possible to obtain said seal, such requirements still fall short of some other failure that should be taken consider. In fact, and although the opposite is often thought, it has not been possible to demonstrate that organic foods are really healthier or have a greater nutritional potential than their non-organic counterparts, as we will see today.
What is organic food
For a food to be part of the organic food group or obtain the famous "eco seal", it must meet requirements such as preserving and caring for the environment, not using fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics or hormones. In addition, at least 95% of the ingredients in this type of food must also come from organic farming.
All this would imply that the way to obtain any ingredient, be it fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy or meat, must involve a good quality of the soil and water used to create a sustainable cycle: it is not allowed to add nutrients to the soil, control pests using artificial pesticides, much less using genetic engineering (so that transgenic foods could not be organic). Yes, it is true that pesticides and fertilizers are used in organic farming, but these are not artificial. This point is important, at least in the United States, where a survey conducted in 2005 came to the conclusion that 70% of consumers of these products buy them precisely to avoid pesticides.
As we can see, when a food is asked to have 95% of its ingredients from organic farming, it means that there will be food preparations that can obtain the eco seal. However, these preparations do not have to be healthier: ultra-processed foods can also be organic foods, as long as their ingredients meet the requirements that we have discussed. And, as is evident, these foods will not be healthier just because they come from organic crops.
One point against the requirements that this type of food must meet is that, among them, there is no point that explains how many kilometers said food has needed to travel to get to the supermarket. In other words, we could be consuming organic food (with all the requirements in order), but from China; its transport will require the use of fossil fuels and travel thousands of kilometers, with all the waste that this entails. And yet, these data are not taken into account in the labeling of these foods.
The supposed benefits of organic food
Regarding the benefits of organic food, there are a series of studies to consider, which have not only analyzed its nutritional potential but also compliance with requirements such as lacking traces of pesticides or residues, in addition to trying to analyze improvements in the taste of this type of food compared to its counterparts without an eco-stamp.
For example, a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2014, after reviewing 343 studies, concluded that organic foods contained higher concentrations of antioxidants and lower amounts of residues such as heavy metals (such as cadmium). In fact, organic food contains up to 50% less heavy metals.
For its part, another study published in the British Journal of Nutrition last year 2016 also determined that some organic foods, such as dairy and meats, contained higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids (supposedly linked to cardiovascular protection). However, this study was pragmatic with respect to its results: the quantities detected do not justify the high prices of eco food, given that a conventional food contains the same nutrients, although in a less significant quantity.
However, both this study and the previous one has leftovers around, such as the fact that they were within the Quality Low Input Food project, a European project that could be completed thanks to funds from a British organization in favor of organic farming called the Sheepdrove Trust. This, in the world of science, is called a conflict of interest, given the risk of bias in its results.
Regarding exposure to pesticides and other residues, it has been shown that organic foods contain less of both, as already demonstrated by a study published in the Journal of Food Science in 2006, and also confirmed by another work published in 2012 a charge of Stanford University.
As for the taste of organic food, another factor that many consumers take into account, there is no evidence in favor either. Said flavor depends on the maturation of the product in question, and on whether it is sold at the right point, whether the product is conventional or organic. And, as we have seen, the legislation allows us to consume eco food from the other side of the world. Likewise, the ripening of organic products in cold rooms is also allowed since 2008, something that in principle would be against the protection of the environment given the energy consumption of the same, but which has been used for a decade.
Organic food is not healthier
Regarding the nutritional quality of organic foods, a study published in 2009 in The American Journal of Nutrition already revealed the scant evidence in this regard: After analyzing 52,471 studies, they were left with the 162 of the highest quality, detecting minimal differences between the content of nutrients, which they attributed to the different production methods rather than to the necessary requirements to call an "eco" product.
Subsequently, another study published in 2012 in the Annals of Internal Medicine also reached a similar conclusion: there is a great lack of scientific evidence in this regard. Although, on the other hand, this study also suggested once again that organic food reduces exposure to pesticide residues or antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
In conclusion, if what we want is to avoid pesticides and other residues in food, it may be relatively advisable to buy organic food. And I say relatively, given its high price compared to its conventional counterparts, and taking into account the "failure" of being able to buy eco-food produced thousands of kilometers away. For the moment, experts advise buying this type of product always in proximity. But, given the scientific evidence in this regard, the factor of "higher nutritional quality" is conspicuous by its absence, for now.
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