Nutrition: Organic Vs Non Organic

Friday 04 May 2018

Wow this is a really heavily debated issue. Some people are absolutely passionate about buying organic, some think it is a waste of money and others are ambivalent to it. I am constantly being asked my views on this by visitors.

There is not really a cut and dried solution to this but I will do my best to give a balanced point of view looking at the main issues surrounding the subject.

I am going to focus on fruits and vegetables. I have spent literally hours researching the subject and found that there is so much information out there.

What does organic mean?

Before I  look at the research  I thought it may be a good idea to make it clear what is meant by ‘organic’.
Contrary to what most people believe ‘organic ‘ does not automatically mean ‘pesticide free’, or ‘chemical free’, In fact under the law organic farmers are allowed to use a wide variety of chemical sprays and powders on their crops but the difference is that the chemicals have to be derived from natural sources, not synthetically manufactured.
Also the chemicals must be applied using equipment that has not been used for synthetic materials in the past 3 years and that the land being planted cannot have been treated with synthetic materials for 3 years.

There are different levels of organic…...

When looking at labels if the label says 100% organic this means that it is free of all synthetic ingredients, ‘Organic’ means that at least 95% of the ingredients are organically produced and ‘made with organic ingredients’ means that 70% of the ingredients must be organic.

Why organic?

Most people devoted to eating organic foods believe that it contains more nutrients and is much healthier.  

Well according to an article in the Times news paper a few weeks ago they reported that eating organic made no difference to the levels of vitamins in the food!!!  To support this, another report showed that organic foods had higher levels of vitamin C but the difference was so small that it would probably have very little benefit over all.

On the other hand a study carried out in 2011 sponsored by the EU costing $25 million, confirmed the benefits of eating organically.

They found that organic fruits and vegetables have up to 50% more antioxidants (antioxidants protect us from free radical damage which can lead to chronic diseases) in them as well as more vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium and selenium, which seems highly significant.

Another study looked at the amount of flavonoids found in fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids have been shown to play an important role in cancer prevention. It was found that the highest levels were found in foods grown by a method called ‘sustainable farming’ rather than organic. This kind of farming is a cross between organic and conventional, in which the crops are treated with synthetic fertilisers, but pesticides are used sparingly.

Confused yet? I could go on and on as I have a pile of reports on my desk some in favour of organic some disputing its benefits and calling it all a con to get us to spend more money.

True organic is more expensive one thing that we can be certain of. James Melik a business reporter for the BBC claims that organic foods can cost anywhere between 10 and 100% more than non organic food. I would imagine that the 100% difference would be meat products rather than fruits and vegetables.

Thinking about this logically…... obviously the level of nutrients that you would get from the fruits and vegetables would be influenced not wholly by whether it was organic or not but would be down to how much you ate, how it was cooked and how long it had been stored because we do know that the longer it is stored the more the nutrients are depleted.

So the answer is not that easy is it?

Pesticides and the dirty dozen.
The only thing that I could add to this is that by eating organic you do reduce the level of synthetic pesticides residues that you eat. Why should we worry about pesticides? are they at a safe level?. When synthetic chemicals were tested for their ability to cause cancer it was found that half of them were carcinogenic (cancer forming) but before we panic!! . According to the Food Standard Agency and the Government Safety Standards the amount of pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables was well below the levels deemed safe.

Although I have to add here that they have never been tested for long term effects or at least I cannot find any evidence of this..

According to an article I found on line which was similar in content to the text from the book by Patrick Holford ‘Say No To Cancer’, there are lists of foods, one list called the ‘dirty dozen’ which basically means that if these can be bought as organic then it would be better, and another list of fruits and vegetables that can be eaten non organically without too much worry.

The dirty list includes Apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, raspberries, spinach, lettuce, carrots, leafy green vegetables and strawberries.

The cleaner list, those with less pesticide residue are; asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, kiwi, mangos, onions, papaya, pineapple, water melon, grapefruit, aubergine, sweet potato and peas.

Interesting isn’t it.  

What’s the bottom line?

Let’s try and make some sense of all of this. Many people I meet with cancer do try and buy organic when they can but we must remember that on a very practical level organic does not keep as long as non organic which could pose a problem for those who cannot or do not feel like shopping regularly.

There is also the cost  - we mentioned that some people’s purse strings may not stretch to buying organic foods.

I must admit that when I did my degree in nutritional medicine it was very naturopathic and very much in flavour of organic food and when I can I will buy organic but if I cannot get what I want organically then I do not worry and go for the normal variety  that is available. I do not lose sleep over it.

What I do though is make sure that my diet is high in fruits and vegetables because as we know these have huge health protective factors and contain not only vitamins and minerals but phytonutrients that have been shown to be very beneficial to those with cancer.

I think the common sense approach should prevail. It is better to eat fruits and vegetables where ever they come from that not to eat any at all.

Blog originally written by Caroline Sept 2012

Get cancer support near you

To find your nearest Maggie's centre, enter your postcode or town below.

Sign up for our newsletter

Stay up to date with our news and fundraising by signing up for our newsletter.

Sign up