Patients often ask me, “What’s the difference between organic and non-organic food.” This is a difficult question to answer because there are varying factors.

The simple answer is that food produced using modern synthetic methods like pesticides and chemical fertilizers is likely classified as “inorganic or non-organic”. If chemical food additives or industrial solvents have been used in processing the food, or if the food has been altered in any way, it is also not organic.

Organics are produced without contamination of any synthetic element. What many people don’t realize is that pesticides are allowed in organic foods as long as they are not synthetic. When non-organic ingredients are present, a large percentage of the food must be organic. In the United States, Canada and Australia, this percentage is 95%. If livestock are involved, they must be reared with regular access to a pasture and without the customary use of antibiotics or growth hormones.

Is Organic food more nutritious?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there really isn’t much proof that organic foods contain more nutrients than non-organic ones. The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) conducted a 12-month review in 2009 (based on 50 years of collected evidence) and concluded that while “consumers may choose to buy organic fruit, vegetables and meat because they believe them to be more nutritious than other food, the balance of current scientific evidence does not support this view”. Yup, you read that right. Other studies have also discovered no proof that organic foods offer greater nutritional value, more consumer safety or any distinguishable difference in taste.

But it’s not all bad news. Some organic products have been proven to contain more vitamin C and a higher quality protein. Evidence has also shown that animals with organic feeds tend to be healthier than those fed with conventional feeds.

Several studies have shown that the small amount of chemical pesticide residue found on synthetically grown foods isn’t dangerous to health. Still, many people opt to err on the side of safety. Studies confirm that children who maintain daily conventional diets have more pesticides in their bodies than those who eat organic foods. Some health specialists believe that these harmful chemicals may cause neurological development to slow.

In my next blog post I’ll look at the 2011 “dirty dozen” list – the worst offenders when it comes to pesticides – and which organic foods you should be buying.