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Organic Food: An In-Depth Look

In recent years, we have seen numerous incidents associated with food safety issues. People are now more concerned about the sources of food and the agricultural processing of food products. There is an ever-increasing demand for artificial additive-free organic food. However, some overseas studies indicate that the nutritional value of organic food is not very much different from that of conventional food products. In a city of soaring costs of living, is it necessary to consider organic food a more healthy choice?

What is organic food?

Organic food generally refers to the kind of food which has been handled through an organic process, all the way from production to treatment, processing and finally retail. ‘Organic’ means that no procedures involve the use of, for example, synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilisers, antibiotics, growth promoters, food additives from non-organic sources; and genetic modification and food irradiation (a radiation technology to kill bacteria). Apart from vegetables, fruit, rice and other crops, common organic foods include cheese, honey and processed products such as bread, corn flakes and cereal.

Is organic food safer?

The use of synthetic compounds is avoided in all procedures, from production to processing, of the manufacture of organic food. Therefore, increased consumption of organic food can reduce the intake of these compounds in theory. However, like ordinary food, organic food have food safety risks. For example, organic granola bars of a certain US brand had to be recalled owing to salmonella contamination.
Some people think that organic food is more prone to microbiological contamination because of the way it produced, but to date there is no scientific evidence that is convincing enough to prove that that the production of organic food is less safe than that of non-organic food. What’s true about organic crops is that as no pesticides are used on them, they do have a shorter shelf life, and decay faster than conventional crops. For the sake of your health, eat them as soon as possible.

Organic food is healthier and more nutritious?

Organic food is more expensive in general. Nevertheless, higher prices do not necessarily reflect a higher nutritional value . From a nutritional point of view , the nutritional content of organic food claims no superiority over non-organic food at all. Conventional crops and livestock products in general have the same nutritional value as their organic counterparts. To date there has not been evidence to show that organic food implies additional health benefits. 
In addition, some processed organic foods with large amount of added fat, sugar or salt for seasoning during their processing. High consumption of them may easily lead to obesity and increase the risks of cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension and coronary heart disease. A survey in the UK found that some processed organic foods in the market, such as baked beans in tomato sauce, biscuits, peanut butter, minestrone and pasta sauce, were priced six times higher than their non-organic counterparts on average, and yet they contained a larger amount of energy, fat, sugar and sodium.

A balanced diet: the most essential thing!

In fact, healthy eating is not all about organic food. More important is a balanced diet, which should be as diversified as possible. Avoid picky eating, and make sure each meal consists of cereals or grains as staple. Eat more fruit and vegetables, cut down on high-sodium (including preserved/pickled foods), high-fat or high-sugar foods. In addition, meals should be taken at regular times and in regular amounts. As long as you can practise all the advice above, whether your food is organic or not means anything but a concern.