ECO, Bio and Organic Foods: are there any differences between them?

ECO, Bio and Organic Foods: are there any differences between them?

If you’re a health-conscious person, you may have come across the terms eco, bio and organic foods.

An aura of health surrounds these products and it seems that if you put them next to any food, it becomes healthy as if by magic.

In this post, we’ll clarify all your doubts regarding these labels:

  • What does each one cater to and what differentiates them?
  • Are these products healthier overall?
  • Should we all immediately start eating eco, organic and bio?

Let’s get stuck in.

What are ecological products?

A food with the label “ecological” is nothing more than an agricultural or agro-industrial product that is produced under a set of procedures and protocols called “ecological”, which generally avoid or minimise the use of pesticides, artificial fertilisers or herbicides. That’s it.

Eco, bio and Ecological foods

So when someone tells you, “this apple is ecological”, it means that apple has been produced using a very specific and regulated “ecological” methodology, which allows for such a label.

For example, within the European Union, eco foods are governed by very specific production and labelling rules (many of you will be familiar with the “euro-leaf” that differentiates them from non-eco foods).

Thus, ecological food producers are obliged by law to use certain authorised chemicals, to fertilise with compost, and to use less environmentally damaging methods.

  • Genetically modified (or transgenic) foods, which are more resistant to pests and improve crop production, are also generally excluded from the ecological category.
  • Another key rule within ecological farming is to respect natural cycles without artificially altering them, which, at least from a theoretical point of view, contributes to a greater richness in micronutrients in the products obtained.
  • Another benefit proposed by organic enthusiasts is the decrease in the levels of pollution generated during production, achieving a more sustainable use of resources and a lower environmental impact.

Let us now review some of the benefits of ecological products and foods in more detail.

What are eco-foods?

The main benefit and claim of eco products is their greater nutritional value.

It is common knowledge that the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in fruits and vegetables have declined dramatically in recent decades.

Orange organic - eco and bio foods

For example, eating an orange in 1950 is very different from eating it in 2021, and the vitamin C content of the orange is much lower.

Another example far removed from the plant world is the content of omega-3 fatty acids, essential for many biological processes, which is much higher in ecologically produced meat and dairy products.

Ecological farming

One more reason why many people have switched to grass-fed meat and ecological farming.

Another frequently mentioned benefit (and perhaps the one I believe to be the most justified) is to respect and improve animal welfare, which is directly related to product quality, as in the case of eggs or meat.

What are bio foods?

What is the practical and theoretical difference between a food with the “eco” label and one with the “bio” label?

Well, at least in Spain, there aren’t any.

Both denominations are comparable and are regulated by the regulations set out in Royal Decree 1852/1993.

Therefore, an eco food or product is nothing more than a product of ecological farming. If you were confused, you shouldn’t be anymore.

This is slightly different in other countries, where a bio food usually refers to a food that is not genetically altered or with more specific connotations, regardless of whether or not pesticides have been used in its cultivation, i.e. it has been produced using an ecological methodology.

This is why you’ll have seen the Non GMO or NGMO label on many products. It stands for “Non Genetically Modified Organism” and is becoming more and more widespread.

What are organic foods?

Similarly, if we look at the definition of organic food, it’s defined as those foods in which no substances such as pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers are used in the production process.

The following things are also rejected:

  • The use of sewage sludge as fertiliser.
  • Genetic engineering to improve resistance to disease and improve crop yields with antibiotics or other drugs for livestock.

Don’t the definitions of bio and eco food sound familiar?

Organic foods

Effectively, these are the same.

But are products labelled as organic healthier?

If we take this large systematic review of no less than 55 articles, the clear conclusions are that there is no evidence of differences in nutritional quality between organic and conventional agriculture.

Small differences in nutrient content are found, but these can be justified by biological differences between products (not all oranges have the same mg of Vitamin C) or by different production methods.

So, why do people insist on eating more organic products?

There are many reasons and most of them are due to good nutritional marketing that has generated the unconscious association in the population of eco/bio/organic products with being healthy.

This, together with the chemophobia existing in a growing number of people and the greater concern in general of the population for their health, means that there are more and more supermarket aisles full of eco and bio food.

Find out more about Food Additives and Preservatives at this link.

What’s the difference between them?

We return to the key concept of the post: the three terms organic, biological and ecological refer to production practices that respect certain “ecological” standards and methodologies.

The most prominent of these being respecting the biological cycles of natural resources and not using chemicals such as synthetic fertilisers or herbicides.

So, should we all consume eco, bio and organic food?

Well, it’s a very personal thing.

You may choose to include this type of food to reduce “chemicals” from your diet, or to be more environmentally friendly and reduce your CO2 footprint.

In any case, there is nothing wrong with opting for eco-friendly products as long as your wallet can afford it (and it is probably beneficial to do so, all things considered).

However, we do find many inconsistencies in the arguments used in favour of these products:

  • From “eco” food grown more than 150 km away from where it is sold or wrapped in layers and layers of plastic;
  • To studies that guarantee that the carbon footprint is very similar to that of traditional products.
On the other hand, scientific studies do not conclude that they are better for health or that they are superior to traditional foods.

And there is another danger with “nutrition labelling”, which also applies to others labelled like “gluten-free” or “lactose-free”.

Local products

And such claims do not guarantee per se that we are talking about a healthy product.

Just as a gluten-free muffin is still an unhealthy food, an ecological muffin made with sunflower oil and refined flour is just as unhealthy as a conventional muffin.

The problem is that, unconsciously, the consumer sees a “plus” in this type of product and tends to consume it with a “lowered” perception that it is still not a recommended food item.

In any case, we repeat, it is an individual decision. The aim of this post is to make it an individual, informed decision.

Hugs to you and see you in the next one!

Sources Consulted

  1. Alan D. Dangour, Sakhi K.Dodhia, Arabella Hayter, Elizabeth Allen, Karen Lock, Ricardo Uauy (2009). Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review.

Related Entries

  • Do you know about the benefits of Real Food? Discover them here.
  • Differences between Use-By and Best-Before dates: go to the Post.
  • There are Apps to scan food and find out if it’s healthy… continue reading.
Review of ECO, Bio and Organic Food

Nutritional Controversy - 100%

Are they the same? - 100%

Differences - 100%

Conclusions - 100%


HSN Evaluation: 4.5 /5
Content Protection by
About Carlos Sánchez
Carlos Sánchez
Carlos Sánchez has a degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics, and therefore all his actions are rigorously backed by science.
Check Also
HSN joins Afepadi, The Association of Dietary Supplements

Afepadi (Business Association of Dietary Supplements and Dietetic Products in Spain) has announced its latest …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *