Organic Food – Is It Really Better For You?
We’ve all heard so much about the benefits of organic food, but still many households find it hard to justify the extra cost. We sought the expert opinion of Janice Chong, a dietitian from Mount Alvernia Hospital. WHAT MAKES FOOD ‘ORGANIC’?

“Organic food definitions and standards vary from country to country,” shared Janice.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), organic food must have an ingredients list and the contents should be 95% or more certified organic, meaning free of synthetic additives like pesticides, chemical fertilisers and dyes, and must not be processed using industrial solvents, irradiation, or genetic engineering.”

While in Singapore, according to Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), with The Food (Amendment) Regulations 2016 came into effect on 2 February 2016, food products labelled as ‘organic’ (or similar terms) must be certified as organic under an inspection and certification system that complies with the CODEX Guidelines for the Production, Processing, Labelling and Marketing of Organically Produced Foods, GL 32-1999, or other similar guidelines.

EVIDENCE FOR AND AGAINST

In the interests of objectivity, Janice highlighted that there is evidence for and against the supposed superior nutritional value of organic food.

For example, a Stanford University Meta-Analysis published in 2012 found that the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.

However, a large meta-analysis published in 2014 in the British Journal of Nutrition found that organic crops have substantially higher concentrations of a range of antioxidants and other potentially beneficial compounds. Meanwhile, another study published in 2016 found that organic dairy and meat contain about 50 percent more omega-3 fatty acids.

More antioxidants, more phytonutrients, more omega-3 fatty acids – all these factors add up to more reasons to choose organic food, budget permitting.

“Bear in mind that the nutritional quality depends on the type of food, their freshness, storage condition and cooking methods,” said Janice, striking a cautionary note.

A HIGHLY PERSONAL CHOICE

When we asked Janice if, in her professional opinion, people should choose organic food over conventional food, she replied, “It all boils down to personal preference. Consumers should pay more attention to achieving a balanced diet that is varied rather than focusing on whether a food is organic or not.”

Janice pointed out that the perils of busy work and life schedules often lead to poor or inadequate food choices. This can result in nutritional imbalances that adversely affect health.

“Ask yourself if you are getting the appropriate amounts of carbohydrates, protein and fat in your diet. Are you even having two serves of fruits and vegetables?” advised Janice. “These are the building blocks to health, irrespective of organic certification.”

NOT ALL ORGANIC FOOD IS CREATED EQUAL

Janice urges us to choose fresh or whole organic foods over packaged organic snacks.

“A whole food would be considered, ideally, as a food with only one ingredient i.e. apple, chicken or a cucumber,” explained Janice. “These foods will assist you in reducing your cholesterol, regulating your blood sugars and reducing your risk for diabetes, while also assisting you in maintaining your weight.”

“A processed food is any food with more than one ingredient, and food companies typically add additional sugars, preservatives, dyes and ‘bad” fats such as saturated and trans fats,” elaborated Janice. “An example would be a baked potato (one ingredient) compared to organic potato chips.”

THE CAUTIOUS CONCLUSION

Few could argue against the sound logic behind organic food. After all, synthetic additives and unpronounceable chemicals have no place in a healthy diet. However, health professionals like Janice believe that adhering to a healthy, balanced diet is of greater importance than choosing organic food.

In conclusion, a balanced diet, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables – preferably but not necessarily organic, is the way to good health.

With thanks to:

Janice Chong
Dietitian, Nutrition & Dietetic Department
Mount Alvernia Hospital
VIEW ALL BLOG

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE...