Health benefits of organic food

It appears that the jury is still out on the benefits of organic food. A recent study comparing the health benefits of organic and conventional foods claims that organic food is ‘no healthier and no safer’ than produce grown with pesticides.

So now I’m confused – and trust me it doesn’t take much these days. The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine by scientists at Stanford University in California, claims that even though organic food is costing us more, we’re not really getting any more nutrition that food grown using pesticides and chemicals.

Some activists argue that the research is deeply flawed and have even described it as a “fraud”. Check out this news article published in the Los Angeles Times with the editor of the journal.

Organic food: thirty per cent less likely to contain pesticides

Surely there must be some health benefits to eating organic foods? If not there will be a lot of angry consumers demanding money back for over-expensive produce that claims to be better for us!

UK campaigners have also said that the survey was not equipped to detect real differences in the way our food is produced and have called for further studies. However, their findings support those of the UK’s Food Standards Agency, which published a review a few years ago into organic food claims. (Read the article published in the Guardian about this particular review.)

If you read between the lines, it isn’t all bad news if you’ve been insistent on only buying organic food – you will still get benefits from eating organic produce. After looking at more than 200 studies of the content and associated health gains of organic and non-organic foods, the recent Stanford study concluded that organic produce was still often  contaminated with pesticides, but that it was 30 per cent less likely to be contaminated than conventional fruit and vegetables.

The organic milk debate

The study also found no difference in protein or fat content between organic and conventional milk. Hmmph. For the past four years I have been religiously buying organic milk, and when I can, organic fruit and vegetables. Somewhere I absorbed some information that ‘normal milk’ may contain elements of antibiotics that have been given to the cow and that was enough to put me off it (rather than the nutritional value of organic milk – for me it’s more about the ‘stuff’ that shouldn’t be in there).

Yet according to the Dairy Council, it seems I’ve been misinformed: “Every tanker of milk, whether from a conventional or an organic farm, is strictly tested for antibiotics. The whole load will be discarded if it contains even a trace amount of antibiotics and the farmer is financially responsible for the full tanker.”

A sucker for organic labels?

I feel a bit silly now. Why is my family drinking organic milk then? I am one of the only mums (okay, the only mum in the one-to two-year-old rooms) who insists on sending her daughter off to nursery with her own two-pint of organic milk to drink from in the afternoon and with her breakfast (which I have to pay for, when they would provide the other stuff free of charge).

On a positive note, I’ve found a study that tells me that maybe I’m not that silly. Just last year a European Union-funded study by Newcastle University analysed 22 brands sold in supermarkets and found that organic milk had lower levels of harmful saturated fats and more beneficial fatty acids than conventional milk.

I am also currently buying organic chicken for the little one, when husband and I will eat ‘normal chicken’. I told you I am a bit bonkers; the way I see it, the longer I can protect little one from fast food and rubbish that will be inflicted on her at birthday parties and sleepovers, the better.

Healthy diets for children

I also think that what we eat as children can have an effect on how we feel about food in later years. My mum was quite strict about what we could eat; we didn’t have organic food, but there was a limit on how much was processed: no crisps, sweets every now and then and only eating wholemeal bread and pasta. Takeaways were a treat and definitely not a weekly occurrence, and that has stayed with me throughout adult life.

All of the conflicting studies about benefits and no benefits will naturally make us question how far we need to go with organic food. We can at least be reassured that if we’ve eaten something non-organic that we normally wouldn’t, that perhaps the food isn’t quite as bad for us as once thought. I will, however, continue to buy my organic milk and chicken, if only for peace of mind!


Posted in Blog, Food and nutrition, Lifestyle, Pregnancy and parenting.

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