Organic Foods – yes or no?

Organic Foods have been growing in popularity and availability over the past decade, and are becoming easier to access in our local supermarkets. In this article, Dr Muireann Cullen of the Nutrition and Health Foundation discusses organic foods and the debate over whether or not these foods are actually better for you, more nutritious, or more environmentally friendly than their conventional counterparts.

What are Organic Foods?

Many people are unsure of exactly what the word organic actually means and how a certified organic food is different compared to the conventional version.

The definition of organic foods is by no means up to interpretation. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland defines it as “the product of an agricultural or aquacultural system of farming that places a strong emphasis on environmental protection and animal welfare.”

Foods that are labelled as organic have been defined as those foods containing at least 95% of organic ingredients. These organic ingredients must be grown under certain conditions which include very strict limits on synthetic pesticide and fertiliser usage, with absolute prohibition of any genetically modified organisms.

The organic food produced in Ireland is governed by EU legislation, and overseen by the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine.

Related: 10 Easy Steps to Improve Nutrition for the Entire Family and The New Food Pyramid – 6 steps to a healthier family

Is it more nutritious?

Extensive research as gone into analysing the nutritional content of certain organic foods compared with the conventionally grown version. None of the studies conducted so far have come to any solid conclusion.

In regards to the nutrient content of the food, some studies found minute differences whiles others did not. Indistinct variations between the composition of soil, geographic locations in which the food was grown, the amount of sunlight the crops receive, and other various factors  can effect these small changes in the nutritional content of the produce.

Since no solid evidence has been gathered to swing the debate either way, the controversy over whether organic food is healthier for you or not continues.

How should I decide whether to buy Organic or not?

Generally, you can weigh the options and sides of the debate, especially considering the higher cost, and decide whether or not to buy organic.

If you are concerned about pesticides that are typically sprayed onto fruits and vegetables during the growing season, the best overall practice is to thoroughly wash/rinse the produce, which helps to remove the majority of dirt or chemicals from the exterior skin of the food.

To do so, rinse the produce under room temperate water for a couple seconds. This recommendation is for all produce, regardless of whether or not it is organic.

Overall, evidence can be collected, opinions can be formed, and the debate will go on. At the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference. Whether you are reaching for an organic banana or not, it is a good nutritious and healthy snack. Either way, choosing the fresh fruit or vegetable snack over a packaged one is preferable, no matter which side of the argument you are on.

Some tips to help you increase your fruit and vegetable intake

Here are some NHF tips to help you reach your goal of 5-a-day

  • Looking for a crunchy snack? Try cutting up carrot sticks and eating them with hummus. Just four dessertspoons of baby carrots counts as one serving of your 5-a-day!
  • Add a sliced banana or other fruit into your breakfast porridge or cereal to include one serving of your 5-a-day to breakfast.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables are equally as nutritious for you as the fresh ones. If certain fruits are out of season, you can most likely find them in the freezer aisle.
  • When you are making dinner, try making a stir-fry with extra vegetables and less meat. The excess fibre in the vegetables will help to keep you full, and count as a serving or two of your 5-a-day.
  • If you are making pasta sauce, grate or dice a whole carrot and courgette into the tomato sauce, which will add about a single serving of vegetables to your dish.

The Nutrition and Health Foundation (NHF) provides information on diet and exercise for the promotion of a healthy Ireland.  Their mission is to communicate evidence based information on nutrition, health and physical activity to encourage an improved and healthier society in Ireland.

Do you eat your meals together as a family? Do you involve your kids in meal preparation?  Share your thoughts in the comments box below

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Jill is one of the co-founders of Mykidstime and a mum of 2 girls