The term “organic” refers to the process of how certain foods are produced. Organic foods have been grown or farmed without the use of artificial chemicals, hormones, antibiotics or genetically modified organisms.
In order to be labelled organic, a food product must be free of artificial food additives. This includes artificial sweeteners, preservatives, coloring, flavoring and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Organically grown crops tend to use natural fertilizers like manure to improve plant growth. Animals raised organically are also not given antibiotics or hormones.
Organic farming tends to improve soil quality and the conservation of groundwater. It also reduces pollution and may be better for the environment.
The most commonly purchased organic foods are fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Nowadays there are also many processed organic products available, such as sodas, cookies and breakfast cereals.
There is some evidence suggesting that organic foods have health benefits.
For example, several lab studies found that their higher antioxidant content helped protect cells from damage. And animal studies show that organic diets may benefit growth, reproduction and the immune system. One study also reported that chickens fed an organic diet showed reduced weight gain, and had stronger immune systems.
Observational studies in humans have linked organic foods to a lower risk of allergies and eczema in children and infants.
A large observational study of 623,080 women found no difference in cancer risk between those who never ate organic food and those who ate it regularly. Another study found that antioxidant levels were higher in men following an organic diet. However, this study was small and not randomized.
When 16 people followed an organic or conventional diet over two 3-week periods, those on the organic diet had slightly higher levels of certain antioxidants in their urine. Yet this study also had limitations that may have caused the differences.
Unfortunately, there’s simply not enough strong evidence available to confirm that organic foods benefit human health more than conventional foods. However, more high-quality studies are needed.