Organic September 2018 has arrived. This is the time of the year when it is good to reflect on how and where we source the food we feed our family.
Organic means embracing nature, with more environmentally sustainable management of the natural environment. Part of this involves higher levels of animal welfare and lower levels of pesticides and artificial fertilisers. Organic food is very important to me and I do my best to buy organic food for my family whenever possible. Here I explain why…
We know know that children are more likely to be affected by pesticide residue than adults and it seems that some fresh fruit, fruit juices and poultry are the foods that pose the greatest threat. The Pesticide Action Network found that the fruit and vegetables available at our schools usually contain multiple pesticides, and its report says more care is needed to control the total pesticides our kids are exposed to. They are pushing for more produce to be sourced from within the UK and specifically from organic growers.
Another EU study showed two-thirds of apple samples had detectable pesticide residue, and 3% actually exceeded the maximum EU residue levels. Maybe you get lucky, and the apples you buy are not part of the worst 3%. But given the chance to reduce the risk from that, not to mention the other 60% slightly less toxic ones at a reasonable price, I’ll buy organic.
So, what impact can pesticides have?
Over 600 unique chemicals make up about 20,000 commercial pesticides that are now used in farming these days. Pesticide residue in our food has been associated with a broad range of childhood health issues including early puberty, neurodevelopmental issues, learning difficulties and diabetes.
Glyphosate is a very controversial pesticide, and amongst other concerns such as cancer, exposure has been be linked to the development of coeliac disease or gluten intolerance. Many genetically modified (GM) crops are is designed to be resistant to glyphosate, so it can be liberally sprayed to kill weeds mingled with the crop. Even though much of the EU has taken a stance against human GM foods, they are still creeping into our food supply. Almost all animal feed has GM ingredients. There is still uncertainty about how more extreme genetic modifications of crops affect us and our children.
Non-GM crops, including wheat, barley and corn are often likely to undergo crop desiccation, having glyphosate sprayed on them just before harvesting to kill the plants, allowing them to dry out for an easier, and often earlier harvest. For every study showing that glyphosate residue is harmless, there is another with unexplained health problems where glyphsate is in the picture. My own view is that for most people, in low quantities, glyphosate residue is probably harmless. However, glyphosate is everywhere, very difficult to avoid entirely, and the evidence is that the residue is often at a high level, even in our everyday packaged foods.
Organic products simply don’t have anything like the same exposure to potential nasties. So you see why I believe that buying organic fruit, veg, meat and dairy products should be a high priority when shifting your family to healthier eating.
What if organic is too expensive?
If you can’t afford organic meat, then opt for the best locally sourced grass-fed meat, as mainstream animal feed is made from ingredients such as corn and soya which can lower the nutritional value of the meat, including omega 3. Grass-fed meat, on the other hand, contains up to five times as much omega-3 than meat from grain-reared animals. Grass-fed meat also contains CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which helps with brain development and function. It also has more antioxidants, trace minerals, and vitamins than conventional grain-fed meat.
Some fruit and veg is worse than others for pesticides. An apple, where you eat the skin, which may have been sprayed, is higher risk than a banana, where you remove the peel first. Of course you can peel an apple, but a lot of the nutrition is lost. The Environmental Working Group produces an annual list of the Dirty Dozen foods which are higher risk for pesticides, and the Clean Fifteen, which are probably safer to have non-organic.
Where can I source organic and grass-fed options?
The supermarkets now sell lots of organic produce and local farmers’ markets and online organic delivery companies are on the rise, so it has never been easier to find organic and grass-fed options.
Chickens do mainly eat corn, but free-range ones left to roam in the fields will have a more varied diet and therefore probably one that is richer in omega-3, which is an essential brain food. So, try to look for chickens that have been fed on organic corn and buy eggs from free-range chickens on an organic diet.
Even when organic food is affordable, it’s not always available, so I am very mindful that compromises need to be taken. I am keener for people to know where their food is from and that care has been taken to ensure it is high quality and nutritious. Above all, don’t deprive your family of nutritious food just because it isn’t available organically.
I remember asking a mum once if her toddler liked eating blueberries. She told me she had not bought her child blueberries yet because she hadn’t found organic ones in her supermarket. No matter how important organic is to me, depriving a child of an amazingly healthy fruit, full of brain-boosting flavonoids because it was not organic, seems wrong. Instead, simply soak your non-organic fruits and vegetables in a bowl of water with a splash of apple cider vinegar or a couple of teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda to help wash off more of the pesticide residues.
So, like with all food choices, use common sense when choosing the food for your kids and do your best to get the highest quality food you can afford and source for your family.