This month is known as ‘Organic September’ as a reminder to people try to include more organic foods in their diet. The month-long campaign, organised by the Soil Association, also aims raise awareness of the many benefits of organic farming.
What is organic?
These foods are produced without the use of artificial pesticides, preservatives and hormones etc. For plants to have an organic label in the UK, the soil must not have been treated with these kinds of products over the preceding 3 years.
How important is it to have organic foods?
In our view, they may help you to optimise your health. However, they can be more expensive or difficult to get hold of. Perhaps it is more of a priority to have as much fresh and locally grown fruit and vegetables as possible, cook at home and try to minimise processed foods.
For some products it is more important to seek out organic versions than for others:
- Cooking oils – refined oils (most of those on the supermarket shelves) may contain small traces of hydrocarbons or they have been heated and damaged in preparation. This could lead to the production of transfats, which increase the risk of heart disease and cancer. In contrast, by choosing extra virgin olive oil or cold-pressed rapeseed oil, or other organic oils you can reduce your chance of later developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The USA has a higher usage of pesticides than in the UK. Their ‘Environmental Working Group’ has produced a list, known as ‘The Dirty Dozen’. * These are mostly fruits and vegetables, such as plums, apples, berries and spinach which have thin skins and are more likely to be contaminated with pesticides. In the UK, also, such foods present more of a risk and where possible you might either choose organic versions or at least peel them or soak them e.g. in cold water with 1-2 tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda.
How do pesticides and preservatives in our food affect our health?
It is possible that they may contribute to chronic diseases including autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or cancer. They may also increase the risk of neurological diseases, including dementia. It is hard to fully assess the impact. Many studies are undertaken by the companies who produce these chemicals, however they are likely to be biased.
Organic foods themselves might not always be perfect, however they tend to be better. So-called natural pesticides might also have an impact on our health. The safest version is home-grown vegetables, then you have complete control, but this is not very realistic for most of us.
What about food packaging?
Chemicals called phthalates and BPA may be present in the lining of food cans, and also in plastic packaging and plastic bottles. These might very slowly leak into your food and drink and can affect your hormones, increasing the risk of weight gain or diabetes. You shouldn’t worry too much about packaging and recent developments such as the use of glass bottles for baby milk and stainless steel water bottles can help to reduce the risks.
Having more organic food is a lifestyle choice. If your budget is limited, it may be more important to ensure that you are achieving your 5 or more fruit and vegetables portions daily, and peel or soak these whenever possible.
Dr Jackie Rose, is a Nutritional Therapist who heads up the Nutrition Clinic at Private GP Extra. Dr Rose is an experienced GP (recently retired from practice) who specialises in nutrition and has co-written a Healthy Eating Cook Book. Find out more here https://www.privategpextra.com/nutrition-private-gp-extra/