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Health, Nutrition, Science

Organic Food: A fat waste of cash?

 That’s a big marrow!      

Wow! That's a big marrow! Alberto Marcantonio grew his 160cm marrow (and fed it only tap water)

 I love growing vegetables; although I’ve never grown a marrow anywhere near the size of Mr Marcantonio’s! Every year our modestly-sized lawn seems to be shrinking as we dig up more of it to make way for our vegetable growing passions. A friend emailed me this picture from the Daily Mail last week and suggested it feature in a blog.    

One of last year's pumpkins!

  Each summer my wife and I get very smug about our home-grown produce. It’s great eating in the garden, happy in the knowledge that we are eating food free from artificial pesticides, fertilisers and heaven-knows whatever else the supermarkets put on our food in!  Before discovering vegetable growing we used to buy a lot of organic vegetables.  This blog looks into how much better organic food actually is. 

I’ve been shocked with what I found out. I rather like the idea of food grown as ‘naturally’ as possible but I fear that many of us have fallen victim to a very big organic marketing con…  

 It’s trendy to buy Organic!   

Liz Hurley loves organic. Do you?

A couple of years ago, it seemed everyone was into buying organic food. The middle-classes decided ‘organic’ was the thing to doJamie Oliver and whole host of other celebrities were telling us to buy organic or grow our own. In fact, unless you were getting an organic ‘veggie-box’ delivered to your door every week then frankly, you just weren’t cutting it! Now the credit-crunch has hit and things have changed. Sales in organic foods have plummeted as us shoppers find it increasingly difficult to justify the premium cost of organic food. But should we just be gritting our teeth and buying it anyway? All those celebrities couldn’t possibly be wrong…

Does organic taste better?    

I think that eating food freshly picked from the garden is delicious. But if you were to blindfold someone could they really be able to taste the organic variety from the non-organic?     

Apparently not! In carefully controlled taste tests members of the public actually can’t taste the difference! In some cases taste tests organic food actually tastes worse!    

Is organic food more nutritious?    

Some organic food actually tastes worse!

Sadly no! Lots of research has been done looking at whether organic fruit and vegetables have more nutrients in them. The bottom-line is there seems to be hardly any difference in nutrient content. The most up-to-date research on organic strawberries that showed they had slightly more vitamin C than their non-organic counterparts but were lacking in other essential nutrients (such as potassium).    

 Is organic food better for the environment?    

No!   

 At least this is what the scientific consensus says at the moment. Because organic food uses fewer chemicals to boost growth, farmers need to use more land and resources planting, maintaining and harvesting it than non-organic methods.    

Organic farming uses less pesticides but uses more land and resources

  So it is a really a big marketing con then?    

Mostly, yes. One of the reasons we may shop organic is that we are scared that there are harmful chemicals on our food. The truth is that every day we actually eat a quarter of a teaspoon of harmful carcinogens (chemicals that can cause cancer). They’re everywhere and an unavoidable part of life; practically all the carcinogens we eat (99.99%) of these are found naturally in our fruit and vegetables – organic or otherwise

In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive regularly inspect food to make sure that minimal amounts of harmful chemicals are on them.

 Conventional farmers have to obey strict rules on the amount of pesticides that can be left on produce and in the UK are regularly inspected. So for most of us, the health hazard that residues of pesticides and fertilisers on are food are negligible. This is backed up by a large body of recent research that shows there is no evidence that eating organic has any health benefits at all!    

Surely there must be some reason to buy organic?    

Don’t go dashing  for the value-priced carrots just yet; I stumbled across some hot-off-the-press research showing that organic food may well have some serious advantages. A rather nasty insect killing spray containing ‘organophosphates’ are often used in farming. If you wash your fruit and veg thoroughly to clean any off, then it shouldn’t pose a health problem. These chemicals are designed to kill insects but children seem to be very sensitive to them: Research is at an early stage but they have been linked to ADHD (Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder). If they are to blame then organic food could be the solution; organophosphate levels drop dramatically in children after making the switch to organic food.    

What a fine specimen!

 Harvest time!    

Many of the claims about organic food are as about as over-bloated as Mr Marcantonio’s marrow but I’m convinced that our home grown veggies are better than shop bought ones. Where else could you get a J-shaped marrow?!  I’d encourage anyone with a garden to give it a go. Growing your own is just, well, satisfying! And as for buying organic food? I wouldn’t break the bank doing it: wash your food well, save your pennies and get yourself an allotment! We’re already thinking about what to plant next year, “Broad beans or tomatoes?”     

Decisions, decisions…

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Thanks for reading – comments and feedback are warmly welcomed!


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About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...

Discussion

4 thoughts on “Organic Food: A fat waste of cash?

  1. I guess it’s like homeopathy or other faith-based system- if you believe then it works. I grow organically, principally because I’m too mean to do otherwise, but I occasionally have to wash the cabbages in brine to evict the ‘jaspers’, as my father referred to any intrusive wildlife. Salt and veg. together is probably not organic.

    Posted by Paul | October 6, 2010, 12:24 pm
  2. Can you taste the difference between organic or not? well, I think It depends on who is tasting it
    because your tongue and your “food tasting senses” change depending on your diet and what you are used to.
    I notice that I experience food differently after being raw food organic eater for a while now, I did´t feel the difference between organic and non organic in the beginning, but now after two years I can feel the difference.
    And also, they mentions that sometimes organic food taste worse, well It´s because we are not used to it, because Organic food has so much more minerals and nutrition’s, so It tastes like the veggies should taste like. There for It tastes different to what we are used to, and some experience different as bad. So the study does not say who tasted the food, the test was probably made on ordinary people eating a standard diet with “damaged” food sensing. Well, calling standard diet “damaged” might seem weird but I don´t think fried food grow on trees and I don´t think pesticides that are supposed to keep bugs away from the food is something we were meant to eat, so that´s why I use the term damaged diet.
    But any way, back to the taste test, so after a while your body get used to It and feels the difference when your eating non organic or food with low nutrition, sometimes while your eating just by the taste, but mostly after you eat, because you don´t get enough nutrition and you get cravings. But in order to really understand what I saying you need to work on it (be organic raw eater for a while, or at least vegan and eat a lot of raw veggies) to notice what I´m saying so.. I give up… 🙂 but good luck if you try It out!

    Posted by Gustaf Thörn | August 30, 2013, 8:04 am

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