All posts by Manasa Kotamraju

Is Organic Food Really Healthier?

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Organic and non-GMO foods make up an increasing proportion of food sales each year. One possible reason for this growth might be the perception that organic food is healthier. But is that really the case?

The term “organic” refers to the way agricultural products are grown. It includes not using synthetic fertilizers to add nutrients to the soil, synthetic pesticides for pest control, genetic engineering to improve disease resistance and increase yield, or antibiotics/growth hormones. Any product that is organic has a USDA label. Organic food is usually more expensive because the physical means of managing pests and weeds without pesticides or fertilizers can be more time-consuming and associated with  a lower yield. 

“Natural” is another term often associated with healthier, safer foods. However, it’s important to know that  “Organic” and “natural” are interchangeable. Natural products don’t have preservatives or artificial flavors, but can still be produced with fertilizers and non-organic means. 

Organic products aren’t more nutritious than non-organic ones. There isn’t concrete research to conclude that organic food consumption leads to health benefits. However, pesticides common in agriculture such as phorate may potentially overstimulate the nervous system causing nausea, dizziness, and confusion. Other classes of pesticides like triazenes may be linked to endocrine-disrupting effects and reproductive toxicity.  However, the health risks of these pesticides from food alone do not exceed the EPA’s level of concern. The effects of exposure to a combination of such pesticides is uncertain and requires more research. 

Given the lack of evidence on the long term effects of eating foods not produced according to organic standards, and the knowledge that organic food can be expensive, it makes sense to weigh the potential benefits. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables under running water to remove dirt, bacteria, and traces of chemicals. You can also peel fruits and vegetables (although this may also remove some nutrients). Buy produce in season if possible because this is more likely to be fresh, with less use of preservative chemicals. In addition, not all produce is created equally; avocados, cantaloupe, pineapple, broccoli, cabbage and corn have low levels of pesticides. In contrast, strawberries, spinach, grapes, apples, tomatoes, peppers and celery have high levels of pesticide residues. 

People consider organic food when they have concerns about the uncertain effects of chemicals and they are willing to spend more. When purchasing produce for yourself and your family, make sure to understand what’s known and unknown so that you can make the best choice for you!

Is Imitation, Plant-Based Meat Healthier Than Animal Meat?

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An increasing number of people in America and around the world are transitioning to plant-based diets, such as vegetarianism or veganism, for ethical, environmental, or health reasons. To make this transition easier, brands like BeyondMeat, Impossible Foods, and MorningStar Farms manufacture foods that mimic the taste and texture of meat, chicken, and fish using plants. These are referred to as imitation plant-based meats. While some people might consider imitation meat a more ethical and environmental option, are they healthier than traditional animal meat? 

The most common ingredients in plant-based imitation meat include soy, tofu, pea protein, coconut oil, seitan, beans, lentils, and potato starch. Imitation meat, poultry, and fish tends to have lower amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol, which are associated with conditions like Type 2 diabetes mellitus and heart disease. For example, a 4 oz patty of ground beef has 12 g of saturated fat and 95 mg of cholesterol whereas a plant-based burger of the same weight has 5 g and 0 mg respectively. Both meat and imitation meat have a comparable amount of protein and calories. Imitation meat also has a higher percentage of daily fiber (15% vs 0% in beef), which supports gut health. 

On the other hand, imitation meat tends to have higher sodium levels, which is associated with high blood pressure. With the variety of imitation meats in the market, there is also variation in the levels of nutrients like zinc and vitamin B12 since they need to be fortified. Because each company fortifies imitation meat differently, the nutritional content can vary. Additionally, plant-based burgers usually contain phytic acid, a natural substance found in plant seeds that impairs the absorption of iron, zinc, and calcium and may promote mineral deficiencies. 

If your motivation for adopting a plant-based diet is health, consider opting for more nutrient-dense and less processed foods such as beans, legumes, grains, nuts, and whole vegetables instead. Jackfruit and tofu are also healthy options. Make sure to take a look at the product Nutrition Facts and see which product aligns with your needs. For example, if you have high blood pressure, you may consider consuming imitation meat in moderation or looking for a product with less sodium. Consult your doctor or nutritionist for personalized dietary recommendations!