Organic Food, Health and the Environment

Learning everything you can about environmental sustainability and carefully considering alternatives are stepping stones to a greener life and healthier earth.
Text by Corina Tan

In this modern day and age, the overall trend of consumer food choices leans toward healthy and environmentally conscious options. Sustainable food is a large part of this, as processed food takes a significant toll on land and water. People are conscious about their carbon footprint, and the rise in costs have also paved the way for growing food at home as part of sustainable living. If enough people change the way they eat, health benefits and environmental impact can be very significant.

Organic Foods

Organic food is essentially grown without synthetic chemicals such as pesticides and fertilisers. While every country may have its own health and food agency that regulates the criteria for what is considered organic, organic food should not be confused with natural food. While natural food is minimally processed and free of artificial ingredients, they are not held to the same standard as organic food and cannot be labelled as such. Similarly, consumers should be knowledgeable about food labels and how to distinguish different terms used to label products in stores.

Some common terms used by organic food sellers are:

  • 100% Organic: The product contains 100% organic ingredients.
  • Organic: The product contains a minimum of 95% organic ingredients.
  • Made with organic ____: The product is made with at least 70% organically produced ingredients.
  • Cage-free eggs: All organic eggs are cage-free eggs, but not all cage-free eggs are organic. Hens laying their eggs are not caged and roam free with unlimited access to food and water, but for their eggs to be certified organic, the hens must also eat feed that do not contain any animal by-product, synthetic fertiliser, sewage sludge or most pesticides.

Should you make the change to organic food for a healthier you and a better environment? Here are the benefits of organic food:

Grown with fewer pesticides

Although organic fruits and veggies are not entirely pesticide-free, the pesticides that are allowed to be used are produced or extracted from natural sources and are far less toxic than the chemicals used in conventional produce.

Potentially healthier

Some evidence suggests that organic food is healthier. Organic fruits and veggies may have 20 to 40 per cent more antioxidants than conventional ones, per a review of 343 studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition. The National Institute of Public Health in Poland, states that organic foods have been shown to have lower levels of toxic metals and higher levels of vitamin C and polyphenols (plant compounds that offer various health benefits) such as protection against heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

Better for the environment

Organic Farming

Organic farming produce less pollution, conserve water and create healthier soil, including reduced soil erosion. Water runoff from organic farming does not contain pesticides, fertiliser and animal waste contaminants that threaten to pollute rivers, lakes and other waterways.

(Read more: QRA: Curating Convenience)

With the good, comes the bad, and the downside of organic food is:

More expensive

A practical consideration about organic food is undoubtedly the cost, which is why most people who cannot afford it, write it off completely. The main reason for the higher costs is associated with farming practices that are regulated by health agencies.

Uses more land

A much bigger area of land is required to farm food organically to fulfil specific criteria needed for organic farming. This results in more deforestation, which means more trees that could have absorbed carbon dioxide emissions are cut down.

Organic does not automatically equal healthy

An organic cookie is still a cookie. Meaning, just because something is organic, doesn’t mean you can eat as much of it as you want; there are still calories and sugar, fat content and other aspects of a food’s nutritional profile to consider.

Organic vegetables

You may often wonder what type of organic food you should opt for, and if you need to consume fully organic produce to reap health benefits. As some fresh produce require more pesticides than others, these should be top on your grocery list:

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Bell and hot peppers
  • Cherries
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes

Consumption of organic food considerations are costs, health and nutritional benefits, and potential impact on the environment. Learning everything you can about environmental sustainability and carefully considering alternatives are stepping stones to a greener life and healthier earth.

(Read more: Here’s the Difference Between Vegan and Plant-Based Diets)

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