That word follows you to the produce department, the deli, your favourite restaurant, and even the pub with organic beer.
When you look up that word in the dictionary, you get a definition that sounds a little bit like this.
“Organic means that there aren’t any genetically modified ingredients. Also, organic means that no chemicals were used to kill bugs and weeds, and that all pesticides are natural instead of synthetic. And organic means that nothing was fertilized with sewage sludge. Organic also means that nothing was exposed to radiation – which some manufacturers use to sterilize food. And that no industrial solvents were used to clean things up.”
But are organic foods really healthier?
For the answer to that question that we turned to Maria Thomas, a Vancouver Dietitian who blogs about healthy eating for Urban Nutrition.
“Based on the research, there still isn’t really enough consistent evidence to say ‘Yes definitely organic food is healthier than non organic food.’ Many factors affect nutrient levels in food such as the quality of the soil or the temperature or the light during the growing season. I mean we just can’t control everything. Having said that, some studies do suggest that organic fruits and vegetables may be higher in particular nutrients such as Vitamin C, phosphorus, and phytochemicals, but then on the flip side they might be lower in protein. So basically there just needs to be more research so that we can more definitively say, ‘Yes it’s better’ or ,‘No it’s basically equal to conventional foods.’”
And then there’s the cost
Organic foods also cost more. Just how much more?
We took a weekly meal plan from Lisa Leake, an author who pledged to go 100 days eating only “real food”, which she classified as foods that were not highly processed or refined.
Her meal plan includes foods like banana pancakes, fajitas, chicken, grilled cheese sandwiches, and comes with a grocery list.
If you were to follow this meal plan for a week while buying all conventional food, you would pay around $192.11 before tax.
If you were to eat the exact same meals for a week but only using organic ingredients you would pay $296.77!!
That’s a difference of $104.66!!!
Is it worth it?
Leake thinks so.
“So if someone is concerned about GMO’s for example, or genetically modified organisms, then choosing organic food is a simple way to just avoid the GMOs because they’re not used in organic foods. If you want to reduce your intake of pesticides, then also choosing organic is a better choice. Having said that, studies haven’t really shown that the amounts of pesticides that are left on most organic foods are enough to cause harm, but obviously we still want people to reduce their exposure to pesticides, especially with kids…because they might be more sensitive to the pesticides just because they are still growing.”
The taste test
Does it taste better. To answer that question we decided to do a very unscientific study using self-proclaimed CKNW staff “foodies.” Our own Matt Lee made the same chili recipe twice, one with all organic ingredients and one with conventional ingredients.
Without telling them which was which, we got staff to try the dishes and tell us which one they liked better.
Cost wise, ingredients for the organic chili came to a grand total of $21, compared to the conventional chili which was only $14.
And the winner? You’ll have to listen to the segment to find out!
LISTEN: CKNW Health Series: Organic vs. Conventional Foods
Organic is big business
The organic food market is described on the Government of Canada website as the most “dynamic and rapidly growing sector of the global food industry.” In 2011, the global market for organic products reached a value of almost 63 billion dollars US.
Worldwide, about 37.2 million hectares of farmland are certified organic, and there are about 1.8 million certified organic producers.
So it seems like whether you subscribe to it or not, and if it actually is better for you or not, the organic food market is here to stay.