Should Clean-Eaters Eat Organic Food?
Should a clean-eating diet include only organic food? Why does organic food cost more and is it better for you than non-organic food?
Thanks to an overload of television programmes and editorial articles on the topic, most of us know that we should be buying organic fruit and veg, and organic, free-range meat. But what does ‘organic’ mean and how can we make the best food choices available to us?
What is organic food?
Organic food is grown, reared or produced without the use of any pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Organic produce is not processed using irradiation, solvents or synthetic additives. Many countries, including those in the European Union and the US, require suppliers to have certification if they are to market food as being organic.
Organic food is more expensive than non-organic certified food by on average about 20%. There are a number of reasons for this including the increased production costs (more input is required for each unit produced due to high demand but limited supply and the lack of pesticides and other production time savers), increased post-production handling costs (organic certification requires the mandatory segregation of organic produce from conventional produce) and small product volumes leading to less efficient distribution chains1.
Some supporters of organic food argue that non-organic food contains more water, which is often apparent when it is cooked, and therefore that organic food is actually better value for money. Many consumers believe that organic food tastes superior to mass produced supermarket fruit and vegetables.
So is it any better for you?
There is currently not enough solid scientific evidence to conclusively prove that if you eat organic produce then you are better off in terms or nutrition or good health. Despite this lack of concrete evidence, there is a firm public perception that if you eat organic food you are healthier because you are not ingesting potentially harmful chemicals. This public perception is beginning to be supported by a number of scientific studies.
Evidence has shown that non-organic food contains the residues of toxic pesticides and fertilisers. These residues are ingested over the years and build up in our systems2. This pesticide residue build-up has been linked to a range of different malignancies including breast cancer3 and brain tumours4, as well as leukemia, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma and multiple myeloma5. However it should be noted that these relationships have not been conclusively proven and remain the subject of some controversy.
The only way to avoid this toxic pesticide accumulation is to opt for organic fruit and vegetables over mass produced, chemically controlled, non-organic produce. Unfortunately, due to the cost implications, not everyone can afford to make this decision. If your finances prohibit you from leading an organic lifestyle, you may find it helpful to read up on the so called ‘dirty dozen’. This list, compiled by the Environmental Working Group, highlights the fruit and vegetables that absorb the most pesticides and chemical residues, and therefore have the highest pesticide loads. If your budget allows you to, you could opt for organic options when buying foods from this list.
Organic meat must comply completely with government organic standards which are focused on the avoidance of synthetic chemicals and drugs in the entire food chain.
Free-range meat labels refer only to the outdoor access provided for animals, not on whether chemicals are used in the production process.
EU legislation sets minimum standards for the rearing and production of chickens, pigs and cattle destined for the human food chain. The UK national legislation often further improves on these standards.
The choice between organic and non-organic meat with regards to our health is the same as when choosing between organic and non-organic vegetables. Organic meat will contain no internal antibiotics or pesticides residues and this could be beneficial to health.
It is clear when you look at the guidelines, that organic meat enjoys, by far, the best quality of life. If you can afford to do so, then buying organic food is the best choice that you can make both for health and moral conscience. However, if you cannot afford the significant extra cost of organic meat, you need to make an informed food choice about the meat that you are going to purchase and eat.
Meat from the supermarket basic ranges are raised to basic UK standards. This probably includes crowded, enriched cages for chickens and intensively reared pigs and cattle that have no access to outdoor space. These animals do suffer physical discomfort and psychological stress from being farmed intensively. You can find out more about how your meat is farmed on the Compassion in World Farming website.
Your choices when deciding which meat to buy are not limited to value range meat or high-end organic cuts. There are some alternatives in between:
The Red Tractor Scheme –
a British organisation that regulates food quality. The Red Tractor logo on your food packaging tells you where your meat is from (based on the flag displayed on the logo). According to The Red Tractor Scheme website, this quality mark also ensures ‘that the food is safe, that animal health and welfare is well cared for, and that the environment is protected from pollution. They also include some standards for composition and eating quality’.
The British Lion Mark –
the Lion scheme was introduced in 1998 and nearly 90% of British eggs are within this scheme. Eggs bearing this mark are produced according to the Lion Code of Practice which has reduced cases of Salmonella dramatically. The code of practise includes guidelines above and beyond those specified in EU and UK legislation. As well as vaccination requirements, eggs with the Lion stamp have been produced by chickens with higher welfare requirements, closely aligned with the RSPCA welfare standards for barn and free range hens.
Freedom Food –
the RSPCA’s labelling and quality assurance scheme, dedicated to raising animal welfare standards. Meat labelled with the Freedom Food logo has been raised according to the standards, which include freedom:
- – from hunger and thirst
- – from discomfort
- – from pain, injury or disease
- – to express normal behaviours
- – from fear and distress
- Ultimately, organic food is best for clean-eaters, both in terms of food quality and the quality of life lived by the animals in the human food chain. At The Green Apple Club we also recognise that most people have to make compromises based on what they can afford. Since our definition of clean-eating is to simply eat unprocessed food, The Green Apple Club believes that you can still eat-clean without including organic food in your diet. Regardless of your circumstances, the decision about whether to buy organic food or not should be based on knowledge rather than ignorance.
About the author:
Sonia Nicholas is a Biomedical Scientist and Freelance Clinical Science Writer & Editor. She has been working in the field of clinical science for fifteen years.
Sonia believes that everyone can improve their health by eating a clean diet – a claim that scientific research increasingly supports. Sonia also believes that healthy, clean eating is accessible to all and doesn’t have to be an expensive lifestyle choice.
All of the articles on The Green Apple Club website are evidence based and fully scientifically referenced.
Article tags: organic food, healthy eating, healthy eating on a budget