Sales of organic food have grown exponentially over the last 20 years in the UK and across Europe. However, there is still widespread confusion about the differences between organic and non-organic foods, and whether they’re healthier for us or not.
And it’s not just fruit and vegetables; we often forget that grains, nuts, seeds and many other foods can also be certified as organic.
Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer helps to cut through some of the confusion.
What is organic farming?
Organic farming is a way of producing food using natural resources, substances and processes and maintaining higher standards of animal welfare. It differs from ‘normal’ farming methods because the use of artificial chemical fertilisers and pesticides are severely limited. Soil is ‘fed’ to encourage a wider range of crops can be grown from healthier soils, and genetically modified (GM) and irradiated crops are banned. In the UK, organic standards, which are very tightly controlled, are generally certified by The Soil Association, although there are eight approved UK organic control bodies.
Why choose to eat organic?
There are many reasons to choose organic produce but primarily it’s to avoid eating foods containing pesticides and other chemicals. Apples are especially subject to chemical additives with a non-organic apple often being sprayed up to 16 times with 36 different chemicals. It is one of the reasons for advising people to peel apples before eating them as it’s not possible to wash off all these chemicals from the outer skin.
Do organic foods contain more nutrients?
The short answer is yes! Organically grown crops have been found to contain more vitamin C, energising iron, calcium and magnesium (great news for the bones) and other antioxidants, especially selenium. One of the reasons selenium is so deficient in the UK population generally is that our soils are depleted; organic farming aims to replenish our soils. And organic milk, as another example, contains 70% more omega-3s than non-organic. Organic food, as the name suggests, is much closer to nature’s intentions than non-organic.
What about pesticides and additives?
Only 20 pesticides are permitted in organic farming and they are derived from natural ingredients. Conversely, there are over 300 used in non-organic farming which is not just potentially dangerous to human health, they are also harmful to the environment and wildlife. Whilst pesticides are not supposed to find their way into our food chain, Government testing found around 47% of foods contained some form of pesticide residue. The effects on our health are largely unknown but exposing the body to potentially harmful chemicals is certainly not ideal for our health.
Does organic food taste better?
Another big fat yes! Anyone who has compared the taste of organic to non-organic carrots, just as one example, would certainly agree. The problem with many of our fruits and vegetables is their growth has been chemically enhanced, which in turn damages the taste. Organic produce is grown more slowly and has a lower water content, which in turn significantly improves the flavour.
With much higher standards for food production overall, it certainly makes sense to eat organic as much as possible. The slightly higher price tag is well justified when it comes to taste, quality and our health.
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