Go Organic for You and the Planet
Until relatively recently organically grown foods were the only foods available on this planet. They are what human beings evolved on. Government statistics indicate that levels of trace minerals in fruit and vegetables fell by up to 76% between 1940 and 1991. In contrast there is growing evidence that organic fruit and vegetables contain more nutrients than non-organic food (1). In case you need persuading here are some reasons for eating organic where possible.
International Research Confirms Benefits of Organic Foods
A couple of years ago an international team of experts looked at 343 peer-reviewed publications on the difference between organic and conventional crops. Antioxidants were found to be between 18-69% higher in organically grown crops. Antioxidant intake is linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers. Switching to eating organic fruit, vegetables and cereals and foods made from them could provide additional antioxidants equivalent to eating 1-2 extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day (2). Other research has found that organically produced tomatoes and aubergines have higher levels of nutrients including potassium, calcium, magnesium and phenolics than conventionally grown plants (3,4).
Organic foods are also lower in toxic metals and pesticides. The heavy metal cadmium is almost 50% lower in organically grown crops compared to conventionally grown crops.
The Benefits of Eating Organic Foods Include:
Reduced Disease Risk
The higher nutrient and antioxidant content of organically grown food could help to lower the incidence of some diseases such as cancer, coronary heart disease and allergies. Antioxidants are generated by plants as a form of self protection from pests and disease. Because organic crops are not protected by pesticides they often contain higher levels of antioxidants than conventionally grown produce.
Beef from organically raised livestock has less saturated fat and more omega-3 fats and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than conventionally reared cattle (5). Omega 3 fats reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and neurological disorders such as depression and ADHD. CLA has been demonstrated to help prevent cancer and to reduce body fat.
Over the last century, intakes of omega-6 fats in Western diets have increased, while omega-3 intakes have fallen resulting in an imbalance in the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio. Concentrations of omega 3 fats including alpha-linolenic acid, EPA, DHA and CLA are higher in organic milk, while omega 6 fats are lower leading to a more favourable ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fats (6).
Organic milk has significantly higher vitamin E and iron levels but lower levels of iodine and selenium. Iodine is found in sea vegetables and Brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium (7)
Lower Levels of Toxic Chemicals
The routine use of synthetic pesticides is not allowed under organic standards. Currently, over 400 chemicals can be used in conventional farming. For example, Cox’s apples can be sprayed up to 16 times with 36 different pesticides. Organophosphates have been linked with cancer, reduced male fertility, foetal abnormalities, chronic fatigue syndrome and Parkinson’s disease. Pesticide residues have been ranked among the top three environmental cancer risks by the American Government. Only four chemicals are allowed in restricted circumstances under Soil Association organic standards (8).
The Cocktail Effect
Pesticide residues are found in many foods. What is more worrying is that most people are taking in multiple pesticides and it is the combination of different chemicals that may lead to a greater risk of harm. Low levels of pesticides and nitrates that may be safe to ingest individually can become toxic in combination. It is difficult to test all the different combinations of pesticides that are allowed in conventional farming meaning the dangers are not fully understood (8).
Pesticides and cancer
Women with breast cancer are five to nine times more likely to have pesticide residues in their blood than those who do not. This may be due to hormone disrupting chemicals found in pesticides. People whose jobs expose them to pesticides have higher rates of cancer (8).
Effects of pesticides on children
Children may be particularly susceptible to pesticide residues as they have a higher intake of food and water relative to body weight than adults and their relatively immature organs may have limited ability to detoxify these substances (8).
Food colourings and additives can cause a range of health problems in adults and children. Around 300 additives are permitted in conventional food. The additives that are permitted in organic products are often there for legal reasons and include nutrients such as iron, calcium, vitamin C and B vitamins. Artificial colourings, artificial sweeteners, monosodium glutamate, phosphoric acid and hydrogenated fats are all banned from organic food due to evidence that they can be damaging to health (8).
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
Genetically modified organisms are banned from organic food. Michael Meacher the former Minister for the Environment stated that “We have had no systematic clinical or biochemical trials of the effects on human beings of eating GM food” (8). For more information about GM crops see blog post at: http://www.foodforthoughtuk.com/gm-crops-not-all-they-were-cracked-up-to-be/
A steady deterioration in male reproductive health has been reported throughout Europe. Sperm concentrations have declined and abnormalities in sperm development have been recorded. Men who eat organically grown food have higher sperm counts than those eating conventionally farmed products. It is thought that man made agricultural chemicals act as endocrine disruptors (8).
Organic Farming and The Environment
Organic farming is one of the most successful agri-environmental schemes globally.
The Soil Association suggests the following benefits of organic farming methods:
- Organic farmers fertilise their land with compost made from plant waste and well rotted animal manure, both of which put nutrients and organisms back into the soil.
- Organic farmers rotate their crops so that the land does not get depleted.
- Organic farming encourages the growth and diversity of soil organisms which produce compounds that help plants absorb nutrients.
- Conventional farming uses chemical fertilisers which contain just a few minerals. This reduces the absorption of other minerals by the plant from the soil.
- Chemical fertilisers often contain toxic heavy metals such as cadmium (8).
Compared to conventionally farmed crops fields containing organically grown crops have been found to have five times more plant species and twenty times more pollinator species.
Insecticide treatments on conventional crops reduce aphids initially but later in the season aphid numbers rise whilst predator numbers fall. This indicates that organic fields have a significantly higher potential for biological pest control (9).
Whilst it may be difficult to eat 100% organic food there are many health and environmental reasons to eat as much organic produce as possible.
- 1. Hunter D, Foster M, McArthur JO et al. Evaluation of the micronutrient composition of plant foods produced by organic and conventional agricultural methods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2011 Jul;51(6):571-82.
- 2. Baranski, M. Srednicka-Tober et al. Higher antioxidant concentrations and less cadmium and pesticide residues in organically-grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. Brit J of Nutrition 2014 Sep 14;112(5):794-811.
- 3. Raigon MD, Rodriguez-Burruezo A, Prohens J. Effects of organic and conventional cultivation methods on composition of eggplant fruits. J Agric Food Chem 2010 Jun 9;58(11):6833-40.
- 4. Linero O, Cidad M, Carrero JA et al. Accumulation and Translocation of Essential and Nonessential Elements by Tomato Plants (Solanum lycopersicum) Cultivated in Open-Air Plots under Organic or Conventional Farming Techniques. J Agric Food Chem. 2015 Nov 4;63(43):9461-70.
- 5. Kamihiro S, Stergiadis S, Leifert C et al. Meat quality and health implications of organic and conventional beef production. Meat Sci. 2015 Feb;100:306-18
- 6. Benbrook CM, Butler G, Latif MA et al. Organic production enhances milk nutritional quality by shifting fatty acid composition: a United States-wide, 18-month study. PloS One. 2013 Dec 9;8(12):e82429.
- 7. Srednicka-Tober D, Baranski et al. Higher PUFA and n-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. Br J Nutr. 2016 Mar 28;115(6):1043-60.
- 8. www.soilassociation.org
- 9. Krauss J, Gallenberger I, Steffan-Dewenter I. Decreased functional diversity and biological pest control in conventional compared to organic crop fields. PloS One. 2011;6(5):e19502.