Is organic food better for me?
The Soil Association launches Organic September this month, which highlights the benefits of organic food and farming. Organic foods support wildlife, help combat climate change, offer a higher standard of animal welfare and reduce pesticide exposure. But you may wonder, is organic food better for me? Let’s find out.
What is organic food?
Organic standards vary throughout the world but in the UK and EU strict standards need to be adhered to. In the UK, organic farmers have to follow a strict protocol to be classed as organic. They need to be certified to legally call their food organic.
The Soil Association says organic farming is:
“a system of farming and food production. Organic farmers aim to produce high-quality food, using methods that benefit our whole food system, from people to planet, plant health to animal welfare”.
Organic farmers use traditional farming methods. They aren’t allowed to use chemical pesticides to kill pests, instead they use a natural balance between plants and animals to try to prevent pests naturally. This means organic foods have minimal toxins, cause less damage to the natural environment and also encourage wildlife.
Animal welfare is a vital component of organic farming. Animals must have access to pasture, must have plenty of space (outdoors and indoors). This encourages natural behaviour and helps reduce stress and the likelihood of disease. They are fed on a diet which is as natural as possible and is without genetically modified substances. Livestock on organic farms are only treated with medicine and antibiotics if they are ill and not routinely, which is common place in non-organic farms. This reduces the risk of antibiotic resistance in both animals and humans. In addition growth stimulants, such as hormones are prohibited.
What is the difference between organic and non organic food?
Visually there is often little difference between organic and non-organic foods and they may not taste different. However, if you get organic fruit and vegetables from a local source they are often fresher, come in different shapes and sizes and may be more vibrant in colour. The main difference between organic and non-organic produce is that organic is likely to have lower levels of pesticides, lower levels of antibiotics and/or hormones within them and may be richer in certain nutrients.
Are there advantages of eating organic foods?
By eating organic you can be assured your choice is better for animals, wildlife, the natural environment and the people who live in it. But you may still be asking is organic food better for me?
There is evidence to suggest that organic fruit and vegetables can contain more iron, magnesium, Vitamin C, phosphorus and health protective anti-oxidants called anthocyanins. They can contain lower levels of the toxic metal cadmium and a lower pesticide residue. And organic fruit and vegetables can contain higher levels of health promoting polyphenols, which can potentially reduce the risk of certain diseases.
Research performed in the UK provided evidence to suggest organic meat and dairy contain more omega 3 fats. These are generally low in the Western diet and can provide health benefits. Also the composition of fats in meat and dairy was more preferable for health and there were higher amounts of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Meat and dairy can also have lower levels of anti-biotics and hormones in them.
There are links to organic foods being associated with fewer allergies and lower incidences of obesity. Although the research did point out that people who buy organic foods are likely to lead a healthier lifestyle, so this may not be due to organic food alone. This study did however conclude organic food production “would therefore most likely benefit human health.”
So in answer to the question, is organic food better for me? It can be, although there isn’t conclusive evidence, there is research to support there are health benefits to eating organic food.
Are organic foods worth prioritising?
If organic food cost the same as non-organic it would be an easy choice. But in truth organic is generally more expensive, with the premium being up to 89% more on some items in the UK! So are there any foods which are worth prioritising?
This is where knowing about the Environmental Working Group is worthwhile. They produce a Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list every year. The list provides foods with the highest pesticide residue (the dirty dozen) and the ones with the lowest residue (the clean fifteen). Prioritising eating an organic variety of the dirty dozen may reduce your toxin load, whilst the clean fifteen offer fruit and vegetables with less toxins naturally. This is a great way to know where to invest and where not to invest in organic fruit and vegetables if you are on a budget.
This year the dirty dozen are:
- Kale, collard and mustard greens
The clean fifteen are:
- Honeydew Melon
- Cantaloupe Melon
Is it better to eat less fruit and vegetables, to be able to afford organic?
In short, no. Eating plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrains are important in a healthy diet. Research supports eating 30 different types of plant foods a week is good for gut health. If you can eat some of these as organic then it can have health benefits. It is also better for the environment. But if your budget doesn’t stretch to this, then a mixture of different plant foods is preferable to having only a few organic ones. If your budget does allow for some organic fruits and vegetables, think about prioritising the ones in the dirty dozen list.
What about meat and dairy?
If you can afford to, I think organic dairy and meat is worth prioritising due to the reduction in hormone and antibiotic exposure. The main problem though, is meat is often a lot more expensive. With research supporting a more plant based diet is better for health and the environment, this may be a good argument to eat less meat, although you may disagree! By doing this it can make eating organic more affordable, as you will be eating less meat but enjoying better quality. If this isn’t an option then looking to buy local traditionally farmed dairy and meat products may be an alternative. But I do appreciate neither of these are an option for some people.
Organic foods and women’s health
Pesticides and fertilizers used in non-organic fruit and vegetables can cause hormone disruption by mimicking hormones in the body. Non-organic meat and dairy are more likely to be sources of hormones and antibiotics which can further disrupt hormones. Women naturally have fluctuating hormones and this becomes worse in the peri-menopause, so by limiting exposure to these toxins and hormones it can be beneficial. Whilst for most it is impossible to go totally organic, reducing exposure to these toxins can be really beneficial for hormonal health.
What certification should I be looking for when buying organic and where do I buy it from?
There are eight organic certification bodies in the UK but probably the best known is the Soil Association, look out for the logo on the right. If organic isn’t an option then it might be worth sourcing small, local farms and asking them about their farming methods. They often they use organic processes but just can’t afford to be certified. Try farmers markets, farm shops and local dairies.
A good way to buy organic is to join a local box scheme, such as Abel and Cole or Riverford who offer fruit, vegetable, meat and fish boxes, which can be more affordable. You may get some fruit and veg you are unfamiliar with but there are usually recipes on their sites to help you out with these. There are also organic farms which provide meat and meat boxes such as Coombe Farm Organic. Or search the Soil Association’s ‘find a box scheme.’ You will also find many organic foods in the supermarket but remember organic doesn’t always mean healthy. It is very easy to buy organic biscuits thinking they are better for you, when they are just as packed with sugar as non-organic. I have been guilty of kidding myself here!
I hope you have found my blog, ‘Is organic food better for me?’ useful and it has helped you think about which organic foods to prioritise, if any this Organic September.
If you are struggling with hormonal imbalances, peri or post menopausal issues or any women’s health issues then please do get in touch to book a free call to have a chat about working together. Or sign up to my mailing list which means you will get my monthly blog delivered straight to your inbox plus extra tips to help balance your hormones. You will also hear about any events I am involved in. I am on Facebook so do come and like or follow my page and feel free to comment or like my posts. Have a wonderful day.