You may be wondering why organic food is any better than the usual food you buy in the supermarket. Is it just over-priced hype?
Well actually, no. There are a number of good reasons why discerning consumers are more likely to spend their food dollars on organics. Let me outline some of the benefits.
First benefit – organic food is more nutritious.
There have been a number of small studies comparing nutrient content of organic foods. A Californian study found more vitamin C in capsicums. The Soil Association in Great Britain found increased calcium and other nutrients in milk.
The higher nutrient level of organic food is due to the way the soil is managed, and it also has to do with the subsequent processing of food.
In ‘conventional’ farming, constant production depletes the minerals in the soil, but generally only nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and calcium are put back in. Furthermore, chemical inputs damage the balance between soil micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes.
The health of the soil is, however, a fundamental tenet of organic farming. Mineral-rich organic matter is returned to the soil, at the same time encouraging the proliferation of micro-organisms that make the nutrients more available to plants, and thus our food.
Many organic foods are more nutritious because they are often a few steps closer to Nature than most foods on the supermarket shelf, which are largely aimed at convenience and extended shelf-life. If foods are highly processed, this generally means that much of their goodness is refined out.
Second benefit – organic food tastes better
At Only Natural, we get comments about this all the time. I have often spoken to groups about healthy eating and asked them to do a taste test comparing apples, carrots and bananas. ‘That’s how they used to taste’ is the common response.
A lot of standard supermarket food is also jazzed up with flavour enhancers that dull our tastebuds to the subtle flavours of real food. Check out the labels on food – for example standard corn chips contain a mass of additives to make them piquant. Compare with organic corn chips which contain corn, oil and salt. You can actually taste the corn because it is not obliterated with clumsy ersatz flavourings.
Third benefit – organic food has fewer additives
Organic certification standards proscribe many food additives.
Consider that there has been limited research on the health effects of eating cocktails of additives such as most people do on a daily basis. Consider also that some countries have deemed fit to ban certain additives as detrimental to health while others use them freely. Consider further that some additives like monosodium glutamate (flavour enhancer 621) have been shown to be harmful but food safety agencies and food manufacturers hush up the data.
Are you willing to take the risk with your own health? Bear in mind also that the unborn child, babies and small children are more susceptible to damage from the harmful food additives because their body systems are in a state of rapid development.
Fourth benefit – organic food has no chemical residues
Many agrichemicals are known to disrupt the endocrine system and cause havoc with the immune system. Here in the South Island of New Zealand I have met a good number of people who have suffered adverse effects from sprays, some of them really serious and life-changing.
Again, developing babies and children are more susceptible to damage. If you seek compelling evidence of the effects of pollutants on long-term health and fertility, I urge you to read ‘Our Stolen Future’ by Theo Colborn.
Fifth benefit – organic animal husbandry is caring
Publicity in recent years has highlighted the plight of battery chickens and broilers, and factory-farmed pigs. Such enterprises cannot obtain organic certification because of more stringent rules on animal welfare.
Going back to soil health, it follows that nutrient-rich living soil provides superior nourishment for grazing animals. Drenches and other pharmaceutical interventions become a thing of the past because a healthy animal is more resistant to disease. Is a healthier animal not also a happier animal?
Sixth benefit – organic agriculture is more sustainable
We must return yet again to that underlying principle of organic agriculture – soil health. Because it does not damage soil biology and structure like ‘conventional’ farming, organic production is a long-term view. It replenishes nutrient levels, it encourages soil life and thus reduces compaction and encourages a strong and deep root structure. In times of drought, less irrigation is required – less power use.
A healthy, living soil also acts as a carbon sink and thus helps to attenuate damage from greenhouse gases.
There are no chemical residues to leach into ground water and waterways. The energy of manufacturing chemical inputs is spared.
Remember that organic agriculture is the normal way of farming; food was grown that way for centuries. To do that, people had to understand Nature and work with her where possible rather than trying to whip her into submission. Organics is the smart way to safeguard the food-producing potential of the Earth for future generations.
To recap these 6 benefits:
· Organic food is more nutritious
· Organic food tastes better
· Organic food has fewer additives
· Organic food has no chemical residues
· Organic animal husbandry is caring
· Organic agriculture is more sustainable
One of the saddest things is that many people only consider organic food when they have a life-threatening illness. But why wait until you are seriously ill to eat quality food?
In my opinion eating organic whole foods is the best health insurance you can have.
Ingrid Weihmann is a nutritionist and co-owner, with Cliff Jefferson, of Only Natural, Timaru's organic shop.