Should I eat organic?

Henrietta Norton BSc, Dip NT, MBANT, AFMCP Co-founder of Wild Nutrition and Nutritional Therapist.

The big O, what is all the fuss about?

Organic farming in the UK is governed by strict standards and involves avoiding the use of pesticides and fertilisers. This is a really good thing as many of these chemicals are hormone-disrupters. Organic meat comes from animals that are raised in natural conditions, on organically farmed land and are not treated routinely with antibiotics.

Artificial oestrogen-like hormones are fed to non-organic cattle to keep the cows producing milk and to fatten them up. This passes directly into us through their by-products and some research has shown this to be a contributory factor in hormonal irregularities such as sub-fertility (in men and women), endometriosis, PCOS and PMS to name a few. Conversely, meat from organically reared animals is nutrient rich because of their healthier diet and lifestyle and, for me, it is preferable to know that the animal had a natural existence rather than a factory style one. Some research suggests that if the animal is happy this can even improve the taste as stress can toughen the meat.

 

Which organic foods should I choose?

We have to live in the real world, so eating organic exclusively is pretty hard. Choosing organic dairy foods and meat, though, can make a significant difference to the amount of environmental chemicals you put into your body. Organic products are more expensive but most of them are worth the extra pennies. Where possible, organic fruit and veg that doesn’t have a peel is also worth choosing. Choosing organic also means you will tend to eat seasonal food too. Grains are very small, so they can absorb more pesticides than other foods so a priority should be organic grains.

‘Organic’ is now a buzzword that, in commercial terms, can generate greater profit for supermarkets. Organic standards vary from country to country and so I would feel inclined to trust an organic food from the UK more than one from other sources. Look for certification from well-respected organisations such as the Soil Association. For more information on trustworthy organic organisations around the world contact the International Federation of Organic Agriculture movements. Some companies also produce organic ‘convenience’ foods. Although they no doubt contain organic produce, you can sometimes be misled into thinking it is a health food. In fact they may contain chemicals or extra salt or sugar, so choose wisely.

On the whole organic is most important when it comes to grains, dairy products and meat. These are the areas of food production that receive the most demand and therefore are more vulnerable to ‘chemical intervention’. If your budget will not stretch to buying the full organic range, do make a priority in your budget for these products.

Tips: The following will reduce your exposure to environmental toxins greatly:

  • Make organic grains and dairy your priority if you have a limited budget.
  • If you cannot stretch to organic meat at least find a farm or butcher that you trust only uses fresh, free-range, well fed animals for their meat.
  • Buy local vegetables and fruit over imported ‘organic’ fruit and veg where possible.
  • Don’t bother to peel organic fruit & veg, just wash well – much of the goodness lies under the skin.
  • Try buying one extra organic product each month to get into the habit.

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