Organic produce has seen a big increase in popularity in recent years. Organic farms grow their produce and raise their animals without the use of man-made fertilisers, pesticides, antibiotics or genetically modified organisms. This means they’re often better for the environment- all those chemicals don’t make their way into the surroundings.
Choosing organic fruit and vegetables might also have benefits for your health. But remember, a diet rich in fruit and vegetables (organic or non-organic) is a healthy choice either way.
Why buy organic produce?
- Good for the environment
Organic farming means less pesticides and chemicals run-off into our rivers, lakes and oceans. This means healthier soil and better water quality. It also improves things for surrounding wildlife- some organic farms have 50% more bees, birds and butterflies thriving in and around them than conventional farms.
- Improved animal welfare
Organically farmed animals are raised in humane conditions, without the use of antibiotics. Their living standards and quality of food is assured by the Soil Association, which issues the farm’s organic labelling. This means organically farmed animals have a better quality of life.
Does organic produce have health benefits?
- Organic food may contain fewer pesticide residues and heavy metals
Organic produce is grown without the use of man-made pesticides. This means that organic produce (cereal grains, fruit and vegetables) contains around four times less pesticide residue than conventionally grown equivalents. However, it is not completely pesticide free. Washing, peeling and removing outer leaves from fruit and vegetables may help to remove some additional pesticide residues.
Organic food may also contain up to 50% less cadmium, a heavy metal found in soil that can be toxic in large quantities.
- Organic food may contain more nutrients and antioxidants
A recent study has suggested organically grown fruit and vegetables contain more nutrients and up to 60% more antioxidants than conventionally grown produce.
Antioxidants are thought to reduce the risk of certain cancers, neurodegenerative diseases and heart attacks. This is the basis of the recent “superfood” movement where certain antioxidant rich foods such as blueberries and green tea have been hailed as the secret to good health. But the NHS recommends that a diet rich in a variety of fruit and vegetables is a better bet for maintaining good health, than dosing up on certain superfoods and ignoring the rest of your diet.
- Organic milk and meat may contain more omega-3s and less saturated fats
Studies have found that organically farmed milk and meat products can contain up to 50% higher levels of omega-3 essential fatty acids, a type of “good fat” essential for normal brain development and function. The European Food Safety Authority currently recommends that Western European diets need to double their Omega-3 intake.
A diet rich in omega-3s may also be linked to lowered blood pressure and reduced risk of heart disease, as well as a stronger immune system. There are also several vegetarian dietary sources of Omega-3 acids, including walnuts, ground flaxseed and chia seeds.
Organic meat was also found to contain slightly less of two types of saturated fat than conventionally raised meat. This may be due to the more natural grass-fed rearing method used. Reducing saturated fat in the diet has been linked to reductions in cholesterol in the blood, lowering the risk of heart disease.
The verdict on organic produce
While organic produce may have a few extra health benefits, it can also be expensive. Conventionally grown produce is still a healthy option, and if buying organic food is unaffordable for you, then the most important thing is to ensure you’re eating 5 or more portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables per day. The Mediterranean diet contains a high proportion of fruit, vegetables, nuts and olive oil and so far evidence suggests it has significant health benefits, including improved mental health outcomes.
Eating well is a great starting point for a healthy life. The NHS Choices website has many useful articles discussing how to maintain a balanced and healthy diet. By looking after your body with good nutrition, you’ll avoid many health issues before they begin.