THE term “organic” food was first coined in the 1940s, which refers to food that is grown, cultivated, stored and processed without the use of any chemicals or synthetic fertilisers, generic modifications or growth hormones, yet produced by the techniques that follow the standards of organic farming.

Organic food typically cost more than their conventional food and higher prices are due, in part, to more expensive farming practices.

In the last few years, organic food has been widely discussed and idealised to be better than others, and maybe many of us are still wondering why.

Organic food has various benefits and nutritional value for health. Some studies have shown that organic food has more beneficial nutrients such as antioxidants than commonly-grown food.

Moreover, people who are allergic to certain types of food, chemicals or preservatives often find their symptoms less or disappear when they consume only organic food products.

Organic food is high in nutrients, especially organic acids and polyphenolic compounds, which are rich in antioxidant phytochemicals such as anthocyanins, flavonoids, and carotenoids that are good for health.

In addition, certain types of organic food have a significantly larger amount of vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus compared with those in inorganic food. While these nutrients are higher, nitrates and pesticide residues are low.

Clear health benefits from consuming organic dairy products have been demonstrated in regard to allergic dermatitis.

A scientist in Scotland has found that organic food contains almost six times more salicylic acid, which helps reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and cancer.

Recent studies have also concluded that organic food does have higher levels of nutrients and antioxidants and lower levels of nitrates and pesticides.

Numerous research have been done to examine the nutritional value of fruits grown organically such as strawberries, blueberries, kiwi fruit and oranges.

The findings showed that these organically-grown fruits had higher levels of Vitamin C, antioxidant activity and significantly higher levels of fructose and glucose, malic acid, phenolics and anthocyanins when compared with conventionally-grown fruits.

Supporting this analysis is nutritionist Dr Virginia Worthington, who holds a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. According to her, the nutritional value in organically-grown fruits, vegetables and grains, are significantly higher compared with conventionally-grown crops, with 27% more vitamin C, 21.1% more iron, 29.3% more magnesium, and 13.6% more phosphorus.

In addition, research on organic milk showed positive findings of antioxidants and beneficial fatty acids such as conjugated linoleic acid and omega-three fatty acids, with organic milk having 68% more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional milk (Ellis et al., 2006).

Furthermore, consumers have acknowledged that organic food does enhance the body and mind immensely due to its nutritional value, unlike conventional food.

Tips to buy organic food

Organic food is gaining wider recognition in the market as it is perceived to be healthier and safer than conventional food products, which contain additives and chemical residues.

Nonetheless, consumers need to ensure that products in the market are 100% organic. This description is used on certified organic fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat and other single-ingredient food. It may also be used on multi-ingredient food if all the ingredients are certified organic.

Organic: These may have a USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) seal. If a multi-ingredient food is labelled organic, at least 95% of the ingredients are certified organic, excluding salt and water.

Made with organic products: If a multi-ingredient product has at least 70%-certified organic ingredients, it may have a “made with organic” ingredients label.

Organic ingredients: If less than 70% of a multi-ingredient product is certified organic, it may not be labelled as organic or carry a USDA seal. The ingredient list can indicate which ingredients are organic.

According to the Centre for Research in Biotechnology for Agriculture at University of Malaya, Malaysia imports more than 60% of its organic food products.

Due to the encouraging increase in organic agriculture and production in the country, the number of organic grocery stores and restaurants that include organic products and ingredients, respectively, have also increased and are gaining popularity among consumers.

Unfortunately, organic food choice of purchase is driven more by impulse and last-minute need, when instead one should be looking at dietary and nutritional food value for their daily intake.

A balanced diet should contain the right amount of calories and nutrition in every single meal. The right balance of food intake and healthy lifestyle apply as much to food choices.

So, going organic may be the right time now for us to not only stay safe, but healthy.

Chef Federico Michieletto is the director of Culinary Arts, Faculty of Culinary Arts, BERJAYA University College.