The Big Organic Food Debate

Almost every client I see wants advice on whether or not they should be eating organic food. Many people consider it to be overly expensive, untrustworthy and unsustainable to the planet. We also ask ourselves whether it’s actually better for us as we spend up to a third more buying milk from cows fed an organic diet, choosing baby food, or fruit and veg that promises it hasn’t been sprayed with potentially harmful pesticides.

With the organic debate back in the news over the weekend, I wanted to give a round up of the latest evidence to help you make the choice for yourself.

A recent landmark study, led by the Swedish University of Agricultural Scientists and commissioned and published by the EU parliament has warned about the potential dangers of many of the pesticides, medications (such as antibiotics) and other chemicals may be having on human health. Many of these chemicals, which are currently used to make farming processes more efficient and productive have been previously deemed as safe. This research challenges previous evidence ahead of the EU’s review of their current policies on what is actually safe for human consumption, which is set to be announced next year. The study suggests that there is evidence that some pesticides and insecticides may actually be damaging our brains, reducing the IQ of the population whilst also potentially raising concerns about cancer risks and damage to our reproductive systems.

The researchers recommend limiting exposure to non-organic fruit and vegetables – and say particular care should be taken by pregnant women and children. The other worry is that many of these chemicals are tested in isolation, not as part of a cocktail. Indeed, USDA researchers have found over 170 different types of chemicals and breakdown products of them on common foods that we eat, some of which can’t even be washed off.

This latest review is one of many that say the same thing, which is extremely concerning for those of us who have been eating non-organic food for years.

So what should we be doing? Should we eat everything organic, and how on earth are we going to pay for it?!

Pick and Choose Your Fruit and Vegetables 

Some fruit and veg can be sprayed multiple times before it gets to us, especially if it has had to travel over the world to get to our plate. This doesn’t necessarily make it less nutritious or mean that we shouldn’t be eating them, far from it! We can however take easy steps that don’t cost the earth to limit our toxic burden.  To help guide us through this process and understand what is safe and not safe, the EWG have composed the “Dirty Dozen” list, which tells us the 12 (or 13!) most toxic vegetables. This is in part owing to whether skin is eaten, where it is grown and how much it needs to be sprayed. This is tested every year, with the most recent list suggesting we should be trying to avoid the following if we want to limit our exposure:

  • Strawberries (the highest in the USA – seasonal UK strawberries may not be as toxic but be cautious anyway!)
  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Spinach (and last year kale was on the list, so I recommend going organic for this too if you can get hold of it)
  • Peppers
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Chilli
  • Potatoes

Whether organic or not, it is always vital to wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly before use. I also suggest using Veggie wash.

What About Dairy?

I always suggest that my clients choose organic dairy products where possible – especially milk and yoghurt if you drink it every day. This is because organic cows are fed grass and grains that contains fewer pesticides, meaning we get are likely to get less exposure. Some organic milk has also been found to have higher levels of some important nutrients such as omega 3 and iron. If the grass the cows have been fed on is rich in clover there may also be added benefits of more iodine, vitamin D, A and E. Organic cows are also administered fewer antibiotics, which is likely to be a good thing for us as well.

Meat and Fish

When it comes to choosing our meat and fish, going organic is great but SO much more expensive, to the point that many simply cannot afford to eat any.. which isn’t ideal especially for growing children who need protein, iron, omega 3, B12 and other nutrients that are found in animal sources of food.

This isn’t a disaster at all and indeed just because something is organic doesn’t mean it is healthier. We should also consider the quality of life of the animal and the animals living conditions – how much light it is exposed to; how much it can spread its wings/legs; how stressed it is, what is actually eats diet (whether organic or not) goes a long way to determining how healthy that animal, and whatever it produces (milk, eggs) will be when it reaches our table. Studies show that the more nutritious the diet of the animal (grass over grain for example) the more nutritious the meat and we also know that animals that are less stressed are healthier and more resistant to infection (probably needing less medication) than unhappy animals cooped up indoors.

The answer with this one is to try and choose good quality meat – going to butchers, buying at local farmers markets, buying eggs from local farms or choosing produce where you can clearly see the animal has been treated and fed well. For example, Clarence House Eggs or Omega 3 rich diet fed chicken in many supermarkets (neither of which are organic) are great options and don’t cost as much as organic. I also advise people to eat seasonally, locally and go for cheaper cuts of meat that just need to be cooked more imaginatively compared to a standard chicken breast. Game meats for example are normally cheaper, extremely nutritious and sustainable.

Fish is a little more difficult as wild fish tends to be better than farmed (whether organic or not) but is often more expensive. Get and enjoy what you ca, and you may like consider sourcing from your local fish monger or getting delivery from amazing companies such as Fish For Thought.

In Summary..

To go organic is really a question of personal values and ultimately if you can afford it. Wherever possible, buy the dairy and the dirty dozen organic, go local/seasonal where you can, and source your meat and fish from trustworthy local butchers and fishmongers.

To limit chemicals in your diet in general, wash fruit and veg, eat fewer refined foods and processed packaged foods!

References:

  1. Alan D Dangour et al, Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review. Am J Clin NutrSeptember 2009, 90 no. 3 680-685
  2. Dominika Średnicka-Tober et al., Higher PUFA andn-3 PUFA, conjugated linoleic acid, α-tocopherol and iron, but lower iodine and selenium concentrations in organic milk: a systematic literature review and meta- and redundancy analyses. British Journal of Nutrition, March 2016, Volume 115, Issue 6, pp.1043-1060
  3. Dominika Średnicka-Tober et al., Composition differences between organic and conventional meat: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. March 2016, British Journal of Nutrition,Volume 115, Issue 6, 994-1011
  4. NHS Report – Is antibiotic farming use threatening human health?

As with all articles on www.alicemackintosh.com, this is no substitution for individual medical or nutritional advice. Please contact info@alicemackintosh.com for more information 

Main photo credit – Laura Edwards