Organic consumer goods have taken over the market in the past few years. With renewed attention being paid to our health and immunity during the pandemic, city folk have been focused on consuming organic products like never before. Growing awareness has contributed to this shift, but with a million options in front of us, do we really understand what does organic mean? which products are actually beneficial for us?
As per the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), organic is defined as, ‘products of holistic agricultural practice using chemical-free fertilizers and pesticides.’ We spoke to Mumbai-based Clinical Nutritionist Karena Adnani to better understand the role of organic foods in our diets. “There appears to be little variation between organic and conventional food products in terms of macro nutritional value (protein, fat, carbohydrate, and dietary fibre). There are other compounding factors (apart from organic v/s non- organic) such as weather conditions, time of harvest, handling of crops, natural variations in production that decide the quality of the food produce, which most of the time is not taken into consideration, “explained Karena.
Contrary to a popular belief that organic means pesticide and fertilizer free, organic farms use: manure, compost, or ‘naturally-derived’ organic fertilizers as well as crop rotation, tilling, etc. for better soil health.
Organic farming is always Eco-friendly
a. Sometimes, less fertilizer means lower crop yield, which increases the pressure for the conversion of more land for farming and more water for irrigation, both of which are serious environmental issues.
b. Transportation distances for organic foods are the same as conventional foods and thus contribute to carbon emissions.
c. Does not take into account the packaging of food (might be wrapped in plastic).
Thus, organic farm practices aren’t always the most sustainable option.
A member of the Indian Dietetic Association (IDA), Karena is a health educator who believes in a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to healthcare. I asked her the golden question- can one be healthy without obsessively consuming organic foods? To which she replied, “If we take into account studies done about the long term measurable health benefits of organic, there is not strong convincing evidence supporting the nutritional benefits of organic over conventional food.” Below, she debunks the most common myths people have about organic food products:
Organic food is Healthier food
The nutritional content of food should not be confused with reduced exposure to pesticide residue. Many junk foods like potato chips made with organic oil or organic potato are not healthy because of their ingredients. One yet has to exercise control while consuming packaged, processed foods.
All foods should be Organic
Certain foods don’t need to be organic and have lower pesticide residue like thick-skinned fruits and vegetables. Instead, look for foods made with whole grains that are high in fiber and low in calories and sugar. Avoid trans fats, additives, preservatives, and added sugars.
All organic labels are Created Equal
If you want to buy organically grown foods, make sure that the label reads ‘100% organic’ and has an ‘Indian Organic’ mark as a certification. This means that the product only contains organic ingredients, with the exception of salt and water (as opposed to made with organic ingredients – is not completely organic, is 70% organic)
Labels may state that the food is “free-range,” “hormone-free,” or “natural.” These statements do not mean the food has followed the same stringent rules, as organic foods must meet.
TOP THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND FOR CONSCIOUS CONSUMERS
1. Karena stresses the importance of local produce rather than organic. Procuring from local vendors limits transport distances which equates to lesser carbon emissions.
2. A diet that has the lowest environmental impact is plant-based and made up of local, seasonal foods. Cutting out foods with high emissions, like meat and dairy, might be a better alternative to cutting down your carbon footprint.
3. The idea is to look beyond labels and engage more seriously with the environmental costs of our everyday choices.
4. Try to include five daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Plant foods offer vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. A wholesome diet, with fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein is more likely to provide health benefits and prevent lifestyle disorders.
5. The key is to eat a rainbow full of fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods regardless of whether they are grown conventionally or organically.