Organic food, is it healthier?
Globally, there is increasing demand for organic food (1). In Malaysia, the organic food industry is still small, as more than 60% of organic food products are imported (2).
However, the demand is increasing as well, due to consumers are increasingly concern about nutrition, health and food quality. Major concerns appear also due to food crisis involving pesticide residue on fresh produce, food contamination by chemicals in dairy and seafood products and the unregulated use of additives in processed food (2).
Furthermore, with the rise of obesity, type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease people are becoming more aware of the effect of their eating habits on health. Some people opt for organic produce food also due to the environmental awareness and threat posed by pesticides use in the conventional farming activities (2).
Generally, consumers perceive and understand that organic produce food is mostly based on not using fertilizers and pesticides thus it is healthier, but is this true? Is this mean that food that is safe is equivalent to food that is healthy?
But first, let us see what organic produce mean….
“Basically, organic farming utilises natural ways to manage crops. When planting crops, natural fertilisers such as manure or compost are used to feed the soil and plants instead of synthetic fertilisers. Some fastidious parties would even go as far as to ensure that the manure comes from organically bred animals, and that the compost is produced from waste material of organic locations. Instead of using chemicals and insecticides to control pests and reduce plant disease, organic farms use natural ingredients such as enzymes or plant-based pesticides. They also practised companion planting, where certain plants that are known to repel insects (such as marigold or bunga tahi ayam) are planted close to crops (3,4)”
In Malaysia, Malaysia Department of Agriculture (DOA) is the body responsible for the National Standard of Organic Food Industry, they also conduct regular checking on all the organic produce food, and certify it, whilst Malaysia Agriculture Research and Development Institute (MARDI) is the body who actively conduct activities to educate farmers on organic farming etc (2).
Thus, from the above statement we know that organic produce food is not necessarily healthy but has safe level of pesticides since the farming method use is more environmentally friendly as compared to conventional produce food. Studies show that organic produce food have one third of the pesticides residue as compared to the conventional produce food on the market (4). However, both produce foods have safe level of pesticide residue, so to said it is safe to consume.
Whether a particular food is healthy or not, it cannot be judged on whether it is grown organically or not only. For a food to be consider healthy, there are many factors that play along. It is very important to remember that, there is no “healthy food like really healthy” food, what might be healthy for you might not be healthy for others, and the same food can also be considered healthy and not healthy merely on the portion consumption. (E.g: chicken is healthy but if you consume two whole chicken per day, then its hard to say that it is healthy anymore). So, to say healthy food itself is a concept comprising eating in moderation, food that has high nutritional value, eat variety of food, eat a balance diet and of course food that is safe to be eaten anddd at the same time food must be eaten according to individuals’ health/ medical condition.
But, if we are looking at the effect of organic food to see whether the consumption of organic food has actually improve health, there is a systematic review on the nutritional – related health effect of organic foods that collect all the studies on the effect of organic food published based on the hypotheses organic food production method results in higher nutrient concentration and that these compositional difference would result in different health responses, such as markers of carcinogenesis (cancer marker) or the bioavailability of phenolic substance (compound use to fight cancer) (1).
The result of the comparison between 12 studies in this review concluded that, antioxidant activity (compound use to fight cancer) was the most common reported primary outcome. Although antioxidant activity is a useful biomarker that maybe relevant to human health it is not direct health outcome itself. In fact, the mechanism of action that link between the effect of concentration of antioxidant and human health is mixed, thus care must be taken in interpretation of such data (1).
So, it is safe to say that, organic food is safer to eat as compare to conventional produce food in terms of pesticides residue but in terms of healthiness of the food, it is healthy to consume food in moderation, variety and balance.
- Dahgour D., Lock K., Hayter A., Aikenhead A., Allen E., Uauy R. (2010). Nutriton – Related Effects of Organic Foods: A systematic Review. American Society for Nutritions Journal. 2020; 92: 203-10
- Somasundram C., Razali Z., Santhirasegaran V., (2016). A Review on Organic Food Production in Malaysia. Horticulturae (MDPI)
- Datuk Dr, Nor Ashikin Mokhtar. The Star. Understanding Organic labels (2014). https://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/viewpoints/womens-world/2014/01/12/understanding-organic-labels (Accessed May 4, 2020)
- Is Organic Food Better For You (n.d). https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/organic-food-better#1 (Accessed May 4, 2020).