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Is organic food for you?

Organic or non-organic? That is the question. Stores are full of organic food. They are selling organic fried pork, organic milk, organic canned beans or organic refined sugar. Both kinds of milk look the same, same amount, same taste, but one is slightly overpriced. So which one to choose?

But first, here are some fact checks. Organic does not mean healthier. And it may not mean it is more nutritious. Also, it is commonly interchanged with the terms “natural”, “free-range” or “hormone free”, but none of these mean organic.

Organic simply means it is food produced by organic farming with no synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers or synthetic food additives. Also, if the non-organic ingredients are present, a certain percentage must be organic (more than 90%) and pesticides are allowed as long as they are not synthetic. So, does it mean it is healthier and by what means?

For sure, there is no evidence that organic food is healthier. Of course, there are people standing on both sides, claiming one and another, but there are only a few researchers saying that it is actually better for you.

So why people are willing to pay more if it is not healthier and better for them? It became a huge issue and talking point because of the “organic movement” as a result of many publications promoting organic food in 1943. Since then, there was a huge demand for it and supermarkets wanted to please their customers, so the amounts of organic food on shelves rapidly increased, just because of the beliefs promoted by the organic food industry.  Also in China, there is an increasing demand for organic food, particularly milk, because in 2009 there was a milk scandal as six children died and that made the Chinese market for organic milk the largest in the world.

There is no evidence supporting statements that organic food is healthier, more nutritious and that it tastes better. Fruit is actually drier when it is organic and it may taste sweeter but it is not because it is organic but because of the natural processes involved in ripening the fruit. The perception that organic food is low-calories is also common, but again there is no evidence. Same as the organic food reduces cancer risk, which is associated with the pesticides in the conventional fruit and vegetable. However, the small number of pesticides found in non-organic will not increase the risk of cancer, even though it is recommended to wash them before consumption properly. Organic fruit is not waxed and therefore it may spoil faster.

Tom Sanders, a professor of nutrition at King’s College London, said the latest research did show some differences. “But the question is, are they within natural variation? And are they nutritionally relevant? I am not convinced.”

In the past, the agriculture was mainly organic, only during the 20th century the new chemicals were introduced and again, it involved a high demand for organic food in supermarkets. Organic farmer´s practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution. Higher costs are due to more expensive farming practices.

The international team working on the scientific analysis of organic food suggests that switching organic fruit and vegetables could give the same benefits as adding one or two portions of the recommended five a day.  But what is really true? Well, you have the right to choose if you want to pay more money for your food and if you really believe it is better for your health. So now, which milk did you choose?

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Veronika Polyakova

Veronika Polyakova is a pastry chef who attended Le Cordon Blue, travelled the world as a personal chef and worked in 5* hotels and Michelin star restaurant.

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