Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Organic Vs Conventional

I remember at school there was the option of extra-curricular debating, if I'm honest, not my idea of fun. I'd rather spend my time on the rugby field with the lads (typical jock) rather than cooped up in a classroom debating political issues in a bid to enhance your ego. Or it could have been the case that I didn't want to get 'owned' by the class geek and have my ego severely dented...

Organic vs Conventional food always sparks a healthy debate. Thousands of articles/journals have been published on the differences between the two methods of food production. I'd like to give my opinion and what methods I encourage with my clients.

The term Organic is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as 'A food or farming methods produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals.'
Compared with conventional farming where pesticides are used. These are synthetic compounds which kill pests, such as weeds, insects and plant pathogens. The pesticides that are sprayed onto the land seep into the soil affecting its composition and therefore its degree of nutrients. The more nutrients in the soil, the more the plants can absorb. However not all of the nutrients are used directly, some have to be converted into a useable form by organisms that live in the soil and in return plants help the organisms out by secreting sugars and enzymes back into the soil so there is a continual cycle.

Various pesticides have been suspected to have unintended affects on human health. With studies showing that some of the synthetic chemicals used may increase the risk of cancer, neurological disorders and endocrine and immune system dysfunction. When you see the term 'may increase the risk of cancer' it may send shockwaves through your body, in a different context you're increasing the risk of cancer everytime you head out in the sun without and suncream on. Don't panic, eating a non-organic onion is not going to kill you! (It's also on the clean-fifteen list).

There's this great perception that everything organic is healthy and packed full of nutrients. Well it's not. If you eat an organic muffin, it's still going to have large amounts of sugar and contain heavily processed flour which will send your insulin levels sky high causing you to gain weight. I've even heard it myself when I was in Planet Organic "oh it's fine to have that cake, it's organic!' Brilliant!

Organic food is more expensive, but it's about putting it into context. Many people spend £5-6 everyday on lunch at sandwich outlets such as Pret and Eat, five days a week that equates to £30 a week on lunch. Organic food specialists such as Abel and Cole sell a medium sized fruit and veg box which is delivered to your door for £18, you chose what you put in the box. For an extra cost meat can also be added.

To help combat the issue of cost of organic produce, the US Government have come up with two lists titled 'The Clean Fifteen' and 'The Dirty Dozen.' These groups display a list of foods with the highest and lowest pesticide residue. The Clean fifteen are foods that show a low level of residue whilst the dirty dozen have the highest and so organic should be purchased.

The Dirty Dozen


The Clean Fifteen

Sweet Peas
Sweet Potatoes

The chart below illustrates a variety of minerals within certain vegetables and how their values differ between organic and conventional farming methods. Spinach (one of the dirty dozen) has dramatic mineral level differences between organic and conventional, magnesium levels a vital mineral which is needed to maintain bone strength, regulate blood sugar levels and support protein synthesis are considerably lower when spinach is produced the conventional way rather than organic. So this is a vegetable that I insist people buy organic. It also tastes so much better.


The debate between organic and conventional farming methods will be a continual talking poin. I believe we, more specifically the Government, need to look at is addressing the problem of obesity and getting people to incorporate more fruit and vegetables in their daily nutrition whether they are organically grown or produced using conventional methods. Obesity costs the NHS £4 Billion a year which is predicted to rise to £6 billion by 2015, a staggering statistic. Supermarkets also have a duty to the public to produce competitive prices and consistent offers on fresh healthy foods. Obesity is such a broad topic and I'm verging off the track a little, but it's a subject that I'm passionate about and it's an epidemic that needs to be halted. Anyway.. back to organics.. next time you're in the supermarket (or ideally a local farmers market) try and purchase foods from the clean fifteen and the dirty dozen.

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