Food: should we always prefer organic?

Do I have to eating Bio ? Is supermarket organic really organic? If my carrots are not organic, do I skip them? From a nutritional point of view, is organic always better? We answer all your questions!

Supermarket organic, what is it worth?

We can trust the organic from the supermarket. “Endowed with significant resources, the distributors are rigorous, upstream in respecting the specifications of the label and at the level of the finished product by carrying out their own checks. Small shops or greengrocers on the markets do not have this ability to perform so many analyses”, explains Dr. Chevallier. Moreover, while we do not hear of fraud at Carrefour, Leclerc or Auchan, it happens that the Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Prevention (DGCCRF) pin small retailers. But, again, it all depends on what you expect from organic. Whether it’s local, fair or CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) what matters to us, we will turn to other distribution channels, even if hypermarkets have made progress in these areas in recent years.

Should we avoid eating fruits and vegetables if they are not organic?

No, even if our fruits and vegetables are not organic, we continue to consume them daily! “Studies on the subject are unanimous: it is always better for the health of consume fruits and vegetableseven non-organic, than to do without it”, insists Dr. Chevallier. Fresh vegetables, rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibers have preventive effects demonstrated on cardiovascular or metabolic disorders, certain cancers… So we don’t skip them under any circumstances. When organic is unavailable or too expensive, we adopt the right anti-pesticide reflexes, especially among vulnerable populations (children, pregnant women, convalescents, etc.): “Above all, we vary the species we eat, because some (apple, grape, peach, etc.) are more likely to contain pesticides than others (melon, kiwi, etc.)recommends Marie-Josèphe Amiot-Carlin. Then, it is necessary to wash well and peel when possible. Finally, we prefer the local and seasonal, which should logically be less loaded with substances intended to improve conservation”.

Does organic reduce the risk of cancer?

Possible, but not sure! In 2018, a French epidemiological study1 conducted by several renowned establishments (Inra, Inserm, Paris XIII University, Cnam) caused a stir by concluding that a high consumption of organic food was associated with a decrease in the appearance of cancers: 25% less, all types cancers combined! According researchers, these results can be explained by the lower exposure of organic consumers to pesticide residues, and the better nutritional quality (vitamins, antioxidants, etc.) of these foods. “While this quality study opens the way to new research, it is not enough for the moment to affirm that eating organic prevents cancertempers Marie-Josèphe Amiot-Carlin. Another solid study (Nutrinet) showed that the most important for our health is the overall composition of a balanced diet, with less sugars, salt, saturated fats, red meats, alcohol… and more fruits and vegetables, seeds, whole grains, vegetable oils…”.

Does organic food provide better nutritional intake?

It depends ! On the fruit and vegetable side, organic provides better nutritional intake than conventional. Several studies confirm this, including a summary of studies published in 20142which shows that these plants contain more antioxidants (+ 19 to 69% polyphenols and + 6 to 12% carotenoids and vitamin C) than those from conventional agriculture. “In the absence of pesticides, the plant is forced to develop its own means of defense (the famous antioxidants) against pests, says the Inrae researcher. Moreover, as in short circuits, the organic fruits and vegetables are rather picked at maturity, when they are richer in micronutrients.” Other results2 also prove that organic meat and milk are much richer (up to 50%) in omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids than their conventional counterparts, with a better lipid profile for meat.The differences are linked to better feeding of the animals, underlines Dr. Chevallier. But we can also eat organic and badly if we favor processed products, even ultra-processed products (pizzas, cookies, spreads, etc.). 60 million consumers, these are as fatty, salty, sweet and calorie-dense as their conventional counterparts. Organic has a small advantage all the same:It authorizes only 51 additives, against 338 in conventional agri-food, says Dr. Laurent Chevallier. And, apart from certain exceptions such as nitrites, the consumption of which raises questions, especially if they are synthetic, most are of natural origin, with potentially fewer health risks.”

Is organic from Asia equivalent to French organic?

A priori, the bio that comes from Asia is worth the French bio. In Europe, regulations impose the same specifications on all member countries. An organic Spanish pepper is subject to the same rules as an organic Provençal pepper. In January 2022, the European Union also tightened the rules for products originating from further afield: only third countries that have signed a trade agreement guaranteeing equivalence in terms of regulation and control with Europe can now sell their products on the Old continent. Thus, when an exporter wishes to obtain the AB label, Icertifying bodies go on site to check that everything is in conformity, and importers are increasing the number of checks upstream. But hey, the objective of organic being to protect the environment, it is better anyway to buy rice from the Camargue rather than from Thailand.

Are organic cereals dangerous?

Nope, organic cereals are not dangerous – even if, with seeds and certain fruits, they are among the foods likely to be contaminated, a fortiori in the absence of treatment, by mycotoxins which are invisible but harmful to our health. However, the studies do not show any excess risks for organic enthusiasts: “The development of mycotoxins can also happen on poorly preserved conventional foods, believes Dr. Chevallier. Moreover, the alternatives to fungicides used in organic farming (seed selection, ventilation of storage places, etc.) effectively prevent mould.”

Does organic go bad faster?

It’s possible that organic goes out of date faster, but… it depends above all on the course of the food and its degree of maturity. Just like conventional foods! “The more mature the fruits are picked, as in short circuits, the more quickly they must be consumed, indicates Marie-Josèphe Amiot-Carlin. In the absence of conservation treatment, they could theoretically spoil faster, but this remains to be demonstrated. You also have to be careful to properly store your fruits and vegetables.

Does organic cost more?

Organic costs less and less. With the explosion of organic in supermarkets and the development of 100% organic supermarkets, it is more affordable, although still a little more expensive than conventional. Today, organic food products sell well. “If we wish consume more organic without going over budget, the right solution is to change your eating habits a little by opting for more seasonal and unprocessed products, by slightly reducing the share of animal foods in favor of plants. And avoiding nutritionally useless products (sodas, biscuits…). A virtuous approach for the environment, the wallet and health”, assures Dr Chevallier.

1. Fewer cancers among organic food consumers, epidemiological study, published today October 22, 2018 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

2. Baranski M, Srednicka-Tober D, Volakakis N et al. Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. Br J Nutr. 2014 Sep 14;112(5):794-811British Journal of Nutrition.

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