If you are anything like the rest of us, you’ve definitely spent thirty minutes debating between buying an organic or inorganic head of lettuce for your salad.
On the one hand, organic just sounds so much nicer. We all want to be the bougie person who tucks their organic produce in their hand-embroidered tote and drinks green juices daily.
But on the other hand, that non-organic head of lettuce is, like, three dollars cheaper. Would anyone notice if Iyou just grabbed this non-organic pack of strawberries and went about your life?
More importantly, will your body notice a difference? What is the real difference between organic and non-organic food?
Well, no more guesswork for you because we here at VINA did the research for you. So sit back, relax, and let us give you the low down on organic and non-organic foods and what that means for the conventional foods you eat.
What Does Organic Even Mean?
The key differences between organic and non-organic produce all come down to what the term “organic” really means.
In basic terms, produce that is organic is made without the use of artificial chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, or genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. These fruits, grains, and vegetables must also be free from artificial additives like artificial sweeteners, flavorings, colorings, preservatives, or MSG. In the case of meat and dairy products, the animals will have to be fed organic feed and be treated following certain guidelines.
By contrast, non-organic produce, meats, and dairy can be made using any of the above-mentioned artificial agents to grow or raise the food.
But the real question is, what kind of an impact does this make on the food itself? Does organic produce have any real benefits to our health? Or is it just a distinction used to charge more for certain products?
Let’s dive in and cover a few of the biggest differences between organic and non-organic foods.
Environmental Impact of Organic vs. Non-Organic Food
It probably comes as no surprise that organic food, particularly organic produce farming, tends to be better for the environment than non-organic produce.
With organic farm practices, you cannot use artificial chemicals or GMOs to boost yield and the ability of crops to grow, nor can you rely on chemical fertilizers to enrich the soil. That means there is a larger emphasis on sustainable growing techniques that promote the health and fertility of the soil without the use of dangerous chemicals or treatments.
Organic food farming also tends to be better from a water perspective. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers (and even the sewage sludge that is sometimes used) can contaminate the water that runs down from the crops and into the soil, where it can end up in the groundwater, poisoning entire reserves of what was once clean drinking water.
Organic farming practices don’t incorporate these kinds of artificial pesticides and chemicals to keep weeds and pests away, instead focusing on more natural methods of pest elimination and fertilization that don’t contaminate drinking water. Rather than synthetic fertilizers, for example, they may use natural fertilizers and use methods like mulching and crop rotation.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, organic farming seems to be better for the environment in almost every measure imaginable.
If environmental health and sustainability are important factors for you, you should consider purchasing organic over non-organic produce.
Nutritional Content of Organic and Non-Organic Food
There have been many studies with contrasting views on whether organic food is more nutritious than non-organic food. While each piece of food grown or raised is unique, making specific comparisons difficult, there does seem to be evidence that organic food overall might be more nutritious than non-organic food.
Several studies show that organic foods are naturally higher in antioxidants, an important nutrient that helps fight chronic inflammation and balance free radicals in your body. One such study found that antioxidant levels might be as much as 69% higher in organic food compared to non-organic.
Organic foods have also been found to contain lower levels of nitrates, compounds that can lead to an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer. Nitrate levels appear to be as much as 30% lower in organic foods compared to non-organics.
On top of this, organically raised meat and dairy products also seem to have a more favorable level of fatty acids. One review of 67 studies found that organic meats contained more omega-3 fatty acids and fewer saturated fats than non-organic meat.
To be fair, other studies seem to show no difference between diets with organic and non-organic foods and their respective nutrient levels. For instance, a review of 233 studies found no strong evidence to recommend organic food over non-organic food. There’s definitely a bit of an argument out there over whether organic foods have higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals.
It is important to remember that there will always be natural variations amongst harvested and raised food based on all sorts of factors, not just whether a particular food is organic or non-organic.
Chemical and Resistant Bacteria Levels in Organic vs. Non-Organic Foods
This is probably not a shocker to you, but organic produce has noticeably lower chemical levels and less resistant bacteria than non-organic produce.
This study found that cadmium, a toxic metal that’s been used as a pesticide, was 48% higher in non-organic produce than organic produce. This same study also found that pesticide residue was four times more likely in non-organic produce than organic produce, which could lead to consumer exposure.
There is also evidence that non-organic produce is more likely to expose you to resistant strains of bacteria. Resistant bacteria are strains of bacteria that have adapted to resist antibiotics, making them harder to kill. Chemical pesticides encourage these kinds of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
If you want to stay away from chemicals and resistant bacteria, organic produce is your safest bet. If you’re buying traditional produce, keep an eye on the Dirty Dozen list, which details the fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticide contamination. These often include:
How Can I Be Sure I Am Buying Organic?
Great question, and the answer is not as simple as looking for an organic label on the things you buy at the grocery store.
The United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA, has three different levels of organic certification that can be applied to products. All food that wishes to be labeled as organic in the US must go through USDA approval.
The labels you may find are:
- 100% Organic: This is produce or meat and dairy that is made using only organic methods and ingredients.
- Organic: The plain organic label indicates that 95% of a product's ingredients are organic. This leaves room for 5% non-organic in products labeled organic.
- Made With Organic Ingredients: This is the least selective label the USDA offers, which indicates a product's ingredients are 70% organic or more. Anything less than 70% cannot legally call itself organic by the USDA standards.
Make sure you understand these labels when purchasing food, and make sure that you prioritize organic foods that have higher USDA organic standards, focusing mainly on 100% organic and organic labeled foods.
Organic vs. Non-Organic Food: Takeaways
Organic food is any produce, meat, or dairy product farmed or raised without artificial chemicals, growth hormones, antibiotics, genetic engineering, artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, or preservatives.
Organic food tends to be better for the environment, may be more nutritious, and has fewer chemicals and resistant bacteria strains.
Make sure you check labels carefully and understand the USDA three-tiered organic labeling system to ensure that you are getting truly organic products at the store. The next time you go to pick up onions or avocados, put a little extra thought into where you want that product coming from!
If you are looking for a great new organic product, you should try VINA prebiotic sodas. VINA is a soda made to be healthy, not just low-calorie. VINA is an organic soda, chock full of prebiotic fiber to promote a healthy gut.
VINA is also sweetened with stevia, a natural, low-calorie sweetener, and boasts natural flavorings and ingredients like real fruit juices. Try VINA today, and be sure to check us out for more great content like this on our blog!
Sources:EWG's 2021 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce | Dirty Dozen | Environmental Working Group