I just love my weekly organic box delivery scheme. I am unashamedly a food geek (goes with the territory of being a nutritionist) and get really rather excited about good quality, delicious-tasting food.
The delights in my box keep me adventurous in the kitchen, as I make up new recipes to use my seasonal delights. My supplier sends recipes each week with nutritional information about the food. I often know which farm it came from with a picture of a jolly earthy-looking farmer tending his kale/hens/apples/cows. It just makes it all more real, natural and healthy.
In box schemes you get more obscure veg such as kohlrabi and purple carrots (my son loves taking these to school to amuse his friends!). I strongly believe it connects you more to your food; where it comes from, the different ways you can use it (cooked, raw). I get inspired every week by my box. Have I told you how much I love it?
So why choose organic? A Soil Association poll shows healthy eating (55%) and avoiding chemical residues (53%) are key reasons cited by shoppers for buying organic produce. Yep, I’d agree with both of those.
Here’s my opinion on why organic is a great choice for wellbeing…
1. Most organic food simply tastes better than the pesticide-grown counterparts (I just love my weird-shaped veg that arrive, knowing that in conventional crop-growing it would have been discarded as ugly and not fit for supermarket shelves).
2. A conventionally-grown apple has an average of 16 different pesticides applied at least 36 times by the time we eat it.
3. You’re naturally eating seasonally, knowing your veg has travelled far less than some of its non-organic counterparts and not forced in unnatural conditions.
4. The variety of veg in your diet increases rather than buying the same each week at the supermarket (I know I used to), thereby broadening your vitamin, mineral & antioxidant intake – essential for good health.
5. Choosing organic meat and dairy produce lessens your exposure to antibiotics, synthetic hormones and drugs that are routinely used on the animals and ultimately on you. Organic farming favours pasture-fed, free range and the natural growth of animals rather than over-crowded, often genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) and over-fed animals.
6. Organic food is tried and tested. Genetic modification of food is still experimental with a short history of use (and safety).
7. Many pesticides are still considered neurotoxins which research shows are damaging to brain and nerve cells. Organophosphates, one type of pesticide was originally developed as a toxic nerve agent during World War I, and then later adapted by industry to control pests. Enough said.
8. Agricultural workers have to use gas masks to spray conventional crops with agrochemicals (pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides). Enough said.
9. We just don’t know the cumulative effect of multiple chemical exposure, not only from agrochemicals in food but preservatives in cosmetics and chemicals in household cleaning products.
10. Children’s growing brains and bodies are far more susceptible to toxins than adults. Choosing organic helps feed their bodies without the exposure to pesticides and GMOs.
11. Food grown on small-scale organic farms help ensure independent family farmers can create a livelihood. Like a local Fair Trade.
12. Organic food supports greater biodiversity which is fundamental to our ecosystem. GMOs and non-organic food is focused on high yield mono-culture and mass-production (therefore profit) and is destroying biodiversity.
The organic v. non-organic debate has rumbled on for decades now but the evidence from a 2014 study is pretty significant – that organic food is higher in antioxidants and lower in toxic metals and pesticides.
Research by an international team at Newcastle University and published in the British Journal of Nutrition analysed 343 studies in an extensive meta-analysis and literature review looking into the compositional differences between conventional and organic crops. They found:
- organic crops are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants than conventionally-grown ones
- eating organic fruit, vegetables and cereals would provide additional antioxidants equivalent to consuming 1-2 extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day
- Lower levels of toxic metals such as cadmium, lead and mercury were also found, almost 50% lower in organic crops than conventionally-grown ones
- Pesticide residues were four times more likely to be found in conventional crops than organic ones
IMPACT ON HUMAN HEALTH
Antioxidants are key for optimal health; they control how fast you age by fighting free radicals. So if organic foods contain higher levels, then that’s good news in my book for the nutritive value in addition to being lower in pesticides. The 5-a-day mantra the government promote is partly due to the increased antioxidants required for good health.
The authors of the study also state that numerous studies have linked antioxidants to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers.
There is also research from 2013 that hypothesises a correlation between increased use of glyphosate (a widely-used agrochemical) and the recent rapid rise in coeliac disease. According to Dr Seneff, chief researcher, the issue of glyphosate contamination is a very important one and suggests it may play a role in most chronic diseases. She sums up the research:
“We need to move quickly, and individually make ourselves healthy by eating healthy foods and by putting in the effort to cook and the effort to grow the food ourselves. Buy organic. Support the organic farmers. Don’t worry about the fact that it’s costing you a little more in food because it’s going to save you a huge amount on healthcare down the road. It’s going to totally pay for itself. If people can get into that mind set, we can make it happen as individuals. We don’t need the government [to act].”
KNOW THE DIRTY DOZEN™ & CLEAN FIFTEEN™
Get acquainted with the Environmental Working Group (EWG) which specialises in research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, public lands and corporate accountability. Sign-up to their newsletter to get a free PDF of the chart below. You can also download their free app.
This information changes each year and is a great guide to use when deciding which foods to buy organic.
WHAT IF I CAN’T AFFORD ORGANIC?
Don’t worry. The benefit of increased vegetable consumption most likely outweighs the risk of chemical contamination. However there are some easy, cheap ways to reduce the risk if you choose non-organic fruit & veg:
- Peel fruit, particularly soft skinned fruits
- Rinse or spray veg with a white vinegar solution for 5-10 minutes. A bottle costs around 99p. Use one part vinegar to three parts water
- Increase foods rich in vitamin C to increase glutathione which helps repair pollutant-damaged cells. For example 100g of raw grapefruit has 70mg of glutathione, while cooked grapefruit has none. Cooked tomatoes also have no glutathione, but 100g of raw tomatoes have 166mg
- Bear in mind the Dirty Dozen™ and the Clean Fifteen™
HOW TO FIND AN ORGANIC BOX SCHEME
Abel & Cole & Riverford are the two national box schemes that are popular and well established. The Soil Association website has a list of local schemes if you enter your postcode. You can also try local grocers – but ask questions, they often use local domestic produce from individuals that has no quality control regarding use of chemicals.
Whatever you decide – love your veg!