Organic and Sustainable foods – a Dietitians View     

According to the Soil Association organic farming encourages wildlife and cuts the use of pesticides and antibiotics. Organic standards define how an organic product must be grown, farmed or made.

Demand for organic foods is partially driven by consumers’ perceptions that they are more nutritious. There is divided opinion on whether there are significant nutritional differences between organic and non-organic food. Organic foods are usually more expensive than conventional foods and consumers often appropriately ask are the price differences worth it?

Nutrient differences in organic food

The Soil Association reported that mineral content and vitamin C levels were higher in organic fruit and vegetables compared to conventional products. A recent meta-analysis1 (results of multiple studies) indicated antioxidant concentrations such as polyphenolics including flavanols were substantially higher in organic compared to non-organic crops. Many of these compounds have previously been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers.

Less pesticides/Contaminants in organic foods

Food is regularly tested for pesticides to ensure that amounts are below levels safe for human consumption. The same study cited above1 also showed lower concentrations of the toxic metal cadmium and a lower incidence of pesticide residues than the same non-organic crops across regions and production seasons.

Health Effects of Organic Foods

Several researchers claim measurable health improvements from the consumption of organic foods. This includes reported lower levels of eczema when infants are given organic dairy products. The Soil Association also reported that sperm counts of groups of men eating organic foods was higher than those eating conventional foods.

Sustainable diets are also trending. The British Dietetic Association have recently published a position statement on sustainable diets that includes a quote from Tara Garnett: “What, and how much we eat directly affects what, and how much is produced. We therefore need to consume more ‘sustainable diets’ – diets that have lower environmental impacts and are healthier.” This complements what other writers suggest, a new era of `holistic sustainability’ that will include restoring soil health, improving air pollution and reducing food waste. Some experts are suggesting that this new (?) `holistic sustainability’ will only come about by taking action ourselves, i.e., grow more of our own fruit and vegetables without chemicals and composting. In our case, we might also remember that we are still an agricultural community with local producers to support.

Happy Spring Season and Happy Gardening.

1Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses.

Marcin Barański, Dominika Średnicka-Tober, Nikolaos Volakakis, Chris Seal,  Roy Sanderson, et al.