Fitness & Health

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Organics: fad or food?

Ali Schwabe | Fulcrum Staff

When it comes to fashion, I’m not really on trend. Music? I still listen to the same CDs I did in grade nine. As for my diet, I jump on and off bandwagons depending on what the latest research says, what foods are generating buzz, and what I believe is healthy. That means that in the past year, I’ve eaten like a vegan, tried the slow-carb diet, and spent a few months incorporating key “superfoods” into my diet. The latest fad I’m following? Switching to organic.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term—which would be a feat, given how extensively it has permeated past natural food stores and into prime real estate at Metro and Loblaws—“organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products. It’s the way fruits, veggies, and grains are grown and the way dairy and meat products are produced. Chemical fertilizers and synthetic herbicides aren’t used to grow food; instead, techniques like manure or compost application and crop rotation are employed. Animals aren’t given antibiotics or hormones to prevent disease or accelerate growth—they’re fed a balanced diet and have access to the great outdoors.

Here in Canada, when you see the label “organic” on a product, it means the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has accredited a certification body to certify that the product meets organic production standards—but what does all that really mean? Is the food actually healthier?

According to most studies: maybe. The answer isn’t totally clear. While some studies of tomatoes have shown significant differences in nutritional content between organic and non-organic samples, studies of other veggies have shown no difference at all. Another problem with most studies is that they’re done over a relatively short period of time, like one or two years—some scientists say a large, longitudinal study (we’re talking 50 plus years) needs to take place to really test whether or not an organic diet can impact health.

So if the proof isn’t in the pudding, why am I choosing to eat this way? If you check out the diets I was following before, you’ll notice they share a focus on eating more vegetables (especially green ones) and veggie-based sources of proteins like lentils, chickpeas, and beans. Few nutritionists would argue that it’s an unhealthy way to eat. The big difference, though, is that the previous diets I tried restricted what foods I was supposed to eat. Organic eating doesn’t mean you have to eliminate certain food groups or space your meals out a certain way—you just pay attention to how the foods you eat are grown. By focusing on organic, I tend to naturally avoid processed junk foods, preservatives, additives, and artificial sweeteners.

Presidents Choice has a huge line of organic products, so it’s been easy (if a tiny bit costly) to switch to organic yogurt, blueberries, spinach, chicken, almond milk, apples, and more. In my opinion, limiting the chemicals, pesticides, and hormones I ingest can only be a good thing. Eating this way also means I’m doing a favour for the environment, since organic farming practices strive to reduce pollution and conserve water and soil quality.

Now that I’ve grown accustomed to my new organic lifestyle, I’m hoping this is a fad that I stick with—just like my organic peanut butter sticks to the roof of my mouth.