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© 2017 Vancouver Dietitians

Is Buying Organic Actually Worth It?

Organic In Canada

 

Organic foods in Canada are regulated by the Organic Products Regulations (OPR)  which enforces the Canadian Organic Standards (COS) that defines the requirements for organic food, feed, and seed products. These standards are strictly regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

 

Organic products can be identified by:

 

 

This guide by the Canadian Organic Growers can help you understand the Canadian Organic Standards.

 

Organic versus non-organic

 

Organic crops are grown without the use of man-made fertilizers and pesticides, antibiotics, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or growth hormones. Rather, farmers use naturally derived pesticides and fertilizers from plant and manure compost. Traditional methods, such as crop rotation to control pests and maintain soil fertility, are also used in organic growing methods. Organically raised animals are fed organic feed with no growth hormones, antibiotics, or insecticides are used.

 

In some cases, non-organic farms may use organic methods such as crop rotation or composted manure which makes it difficult to compare organic versus non-organic foods.

 

Why Organic?

 

Reasons for choosing to consume organic foods can vary among people. Concerns over nutrition, pesticide residues, antibiotic resistance, environmentalism, and/or animal welfare may motivate some people to choose organic products. Some people believe organic food tastes better or feel that organic products are "more natural".

 

Is buying organic more nutritious than buying non-organic?

 

Comparing nutrition alone, there is no research that supports organic foods are more nutritious than non-organic.

 

Organic crops- fruits, vegetables, & grains

 

The nutrient content of crops, whether organic or non-organic, can be affected by:

 

  • Growing conditions

  • Soil quality

  • Timing and method of harvesting

 

Studies, so far, have mixed results. Organically-grown crops can be:

 

  • Higher in phosphorus, vitamin C, zinc, iron, phytochemicals, and antioxidants.

  • Lower in protein and nitrogen.

 

Organic animal-based products

 

Differences in nutrient content showed a slightly higher nutrient content in organically-farmed meats, poultry, milk, and eggs. In specific, organic milk & dairy products can be:

 

  • Higher in omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and vitamin E

  • Lower in selenium and iodine, two important minerals for our bodies.

 

Keep in mind, the nutrient content of meat and other animal-based products, whether organic or non-organic, can be affected by:

 

  • Animal breeds and genetics

  • Animal feed

  • Time of the year

  • Type of farm

 

Organic “Junk” Food?

 

Yes! A product labelled "organic" does not automatically means it is healthy. Organic ice cream, cookies, and sodas are still highly processed, calorie dense, and often have high amounts of sugar, salt, and fat.  While these products might be free of artificial food additives sometimes found in non-organic products, they still should only be eaten in moderation.

 

Bottom Line

 

While there are differences between organic and non-organic foods, the nutritional difference is not significant. Further high quality research comparing the two is warranted.

 

At the end of the day, choosing to buy organic or non-organic is a personal choice. Regardless of your choice, make sure to:

 

  • Wash your fruits and vegetables under cold running water before cooking or eating to remove any remaining pesticide residue.

  • You can also refer to the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper's Guide to Pestcides in Produce to guide your organic versus non-organic choices at the grocery store, if you are concerned about pesticide residues.

  • Properly store, handle, and cook food to prevent foodborne illness (click here to learn more about Health Canada’s food safe handling recommendations)

  • Choose foods that are in season and, if possible, locally produced

  • Compare food labels and nutrition facts tables to choose the healthiest option for you

  • Enjoy a varied, balanced diet that includes an active lifestyle
     

 Resources:

  • https://www.dietitians.ca/Downloads/Factsheets/Organic-foods-are-they-better.aspx

  • https://www.cog.ca/home/about-organics/the-canadian-organic-standards/#1529346911148-f60ba9eb-852f

  • Studies on nutritional content:

    • https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07352689.2011.554417

    • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21929333

    • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24968103

    • https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1573521411000054

    • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26878105

    • https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/organic-food/art-20043880

 

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