Organic Or The
Cheaper Stuff?

Though sales of organic produce have soared in the UK over the past 10 years in both farmers' markets and the major supermarkets, some consumers, particularly those on a tight budget, are starting to question if the historically reported health benefits of organic food are worth the hefty additional cost to their weekly shop.

Woman shopping for organic produce

The debate rages on about eating organic vs non-organic food. Naysayers, echoing the sentiments of David Miliband when he was environment secretary in 2007, say organic food is a lifestyle choice and makes no difference to personal health. Confusingly, a meta analysis of over 50 years and thousands of scientific studies published the same year by an EU-funded four-year project, found that there were measurable benefits to organic food. They found up to 40% more antioxidants, which prevent disease and extend cellular life in organic fruit and vegetables compared to non-organic. In addition, they found organic tomatoes, in particular, included more bioflavonoids, which help prevent heart disease.

Two years later, a much bigger study, conducted over 50 years and looking at thousands of scientific reports, was released by the Food Standards Agency and reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It concluded that there were no health benefits in eating organic instead of non-organic. The study conceded there were small differences in nutrient content but not enough to impact on individual health.

Even The Soil Association, possibly the biggest advocate in the UK for organic farming, released a report saying more, longer-term studies had to be done to draw any conclusive evidence, but the growing popularity of organic produce, as demonstrated by ever-increasing sales, proves that consumers are attracted to something about organic food.

Why might you prefer organic food?

Certainly organic farming methods are better for the environment and by proxy, better for us in the long term and for future generations. Others say it tastes better and fresher. There is also a sense that if you are paying more for something, it must be better somehow.

Why might you prefer non-organic?

It's cheaper, it's cleaner and more uniform looking, though supermarkets are getting better at prettying up the organic produce they sell. Most of all, it's what most of us have been eating all our lives, and so far, it hasn't done us any harm.

Halfway decided? Which organics give better value for money?

In America, the Environmental Working Group says if you are going to go partially organic, the best foods to spend extra money on are those more likely to contain higher levels of pesticide residue. These are peaches, apples, sweet peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes, spinach, lettuce and potatoes.

On the other side, those foods that contain the least residues are probably not worth the extra money. They say these include broccoli, bananas, onions, avocados, asparagus, mangos, kiwi fruit and pineapple.

The only advice they have on meat and poultry is to trim the fat (a good idea anyway), which would hold on to most of the pesticide residue.

More on going organic

10 Reasons to go organic
Eco make-over your home: Top ethical labels for your house
How to make your own healthy, tasty baby food at home

Tags: health benefits nutrients organic


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