Is organic food better? The jury is still out

Updated 31 October 2012
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Is organic food better? The jury is still out

WASHINGTON: The debate over whether organic food is better for our health and worth its higher price keeps raging on in the United States as the conclusion of four decades of studies seems far from clear.
The controversy was back in the news last month when a large-scale study by researchers from Stanford University found organic foods no more nutritious than conventional products, though they did have fewer traces of pesticides.
Researchers, who reviewed 237 different studies, did not find organic meats were healthier either.
“When we began this project, we though that there would likely be some findings that would support the superiority of organic over conventional food,” said Dr. Dena Bravata of Stanford University, lead author of the study.
“We were definitely surprised it’s not the case.”
Researchers said they found conventional fruits and vegetables had more pesticide residues than their organic equivalents but that the trace pesticide levels were almost always within the range authorities allow.
In 2011, researchers at Britain’s Newcastle University reached different conclusions when they did a meta-analysis of combined data from the same 237 studies, which were done over the course of four decades.
Their research, which did not generate much attention, found non-genetically modified and pesticide-free fruits and vegetables had better nutritional value: among the standout findings, that they contain more vitamin C than conventional fruits and vegetables.
And so the lack of decisive conclusions to be drawn led to an interesting development.

Just eat plenty of veggies
The American Academy of Pediatrics on October 22 announced that no scientific study had proven organic foods to be healthier. It recommended in a report that children eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables — whether they are organic or not.
“In the long term, there is currently no direct evidence that consuming an organic diet leads to improved health or lower risk of disease,” it said.
It was a potentially important idea, as many parents would like their children and especially babies to eat organic fruits and vegetables, but their high cost can be prohibitive for most. The market in organic foods is already worth $31 billion a year — and surging by 10% every year.
“We do not want families to choose to consume smaller amounts of more expensive organic foods and thus reduce their overall intake of healthy foods like produce,” Janet Silverstein of the American Academy of Pediatrics said last week.
“What’s most important is that children eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products, whether those are conventional or organic foods,” she said. “This type of diet has proven health benefits.”
Pros and cons
The report nonetheless found the studies indicated lower presence of trace pesticides in organic foods, while organic beef had fewer antibiotic resistant bacteria.
David Haytowitz, a nutritionist at the US Department of Agriculture, stressed that comparing organic and conventional products was complicated.
“It is very difficult to make a comparison because there are so many variables affecting the nutrient content of a crop...the growing location, the controlled practices etc.,” he stressed.
So “unless you do a peer study where you plant a particular crop organic and conventional side by side and be sure there is no cross contamination,” the comparison really is not a simple one.
David Schardt, chief nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, however said that could be beside the point. In his view, Americans choose organic foods for a range of reasons.
“Most people who start eating organic food do so to avoid pesticide or other contaminants in the food,” Schardt told AFP.
That makes sense to Christine Bushway, head of the Organic Trade Association.
“Even though the pesticide and contaminants in conventional food remain technically at safe levels it still make sense for those families with kids or with expecting mothers to avoid them and ...choose organic,” he stressed.
“The (Stanford report) says organic food has 30% less pesticide and that is what the consumers is concerned about,” she said.


Ta’ateemah: Giving Eid a Hijazi flavor

Ta’ateemah includes a variety of dishes such as dibyazah, red mish, chicken and lamb stew and bread. File/Getty Images
Updated 19 June 2018
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Ta’ateemah: Giving Eid a Hijazi flavor

  • Dibyaza is made of melted dried apricots, roasted nuts, figs, peach and sugary dates to create a marmalade-like dish that can be enjoyed with or without bread
  • The dibyaza is also similar to an Egyptian dish called khoshaf, but dibyaza is often partnered with shureik — a donut-shaped bread with sesame sprinkled all over it

JEDDAH: Ta’ateemah is the name of the breakfast feast Hijazis enjoy on the first day of Eid Al-Fitr. It is derived from the Arabic word, itmah, or darkness, because the dishes served are light, just like midnight snacks.

Muslims around the world celebrate Eid Al-Fitr to feast after fasting for the holy month of Ramadan. But it is called Al-Fitr from iftar, or breakfast when translated to English, which is a meal Muslims do not get to experience during that month.
The first day of Eid is a day where they finally can, and they greet the day with joy by heading to Eid prayers and then enjoying this traditional meal.
Amal Turkistani, mother of five from Makkah who now lives in Jeddah, told Arab News all about a special Eid dish.
“The most famous dish is the dibyaza, and making a dish of it is a work of art that I can proudly say I excel at. Dibyaza is made of melted dried apricots, roasted nuts, figs, peach and sugary dates to create a marmalade-like dish that can be enjoyed with or without bread.”
She revealed that dibyaza is not a quick meal — it is usually prepared a day or two before Eid with the ingredients simmered to reach the correct liquid thickness.
No one can trace the origins of dibyaza — it remains a mystery. Some people claim it originated in Turkey, while others attribute it to the Indians.
A number of women who are famous for their dibyaza agreed that it is a Makkawi dish. This marmalade dish was developed and improved, with tiny details to distinguish it.
The dibyaza is also similar to an Egyptian dish called khoshaf, but dibyaza is often partnered with shureik — a donut-shaped bread with sesame sprinkled all over it.
Turkistani said sweet shops sell 1 kg of dibyaza for SR50 ($13), competing with housewives who make their own.

 

“I think it is always tastier when it’s homemade because of all the love that goes into making it. It’s also a wonderful way to greet your family and neighbors with this special dish that you only enjoy once a year.”
Her younger sister, Fatin, said: “My siblings always have Eid breakfast at my place, so it’s up to me to prepare the feast. My sister spares me the exhausting dibyaza-making, so I prepare two main dishes: Minazalla, which is a stew of lamb chops with tahini and a tomato chicken stew.
“She also serves what we call nawashif, or dry food, like different types of cheese and olives, pickled lemon, labneh, red mish — a mixture of white cheese, yogurt and chili pepper and halwa tahini,” Amal said.
Mohammed Ibrahim, 23, from Makkah, told Arab News: “It always feels unique to have minazalla and nawashif during Eid, and not just because it is followed by the Eidiyah.”

Decoder

What is Eidiyah?

It is money elders in the family give to the youth to celebrate Eid and to congratulate them on completing Ramadan fasting.