It’s only natural that mums-to be become more aware of what they eat, both for themselves and their unborn baby. Natasha Collins-Daniel from the Soil Association answers the key questions about organic food and shines a light on nutritional findings that suggest organic food is nutritionally different to non-organic
A healthy diet balancing a variety of foods from wholegrains to fresh fruit and vegetables is vital during pregnancy for both mother and baby. This essential healthy eating often continues after pregnancy and into family life. Increasingly, parents and, of course, mums-to-be, are looking to find out more about the healthy eating options available to them, including organic.
Mum-to-be Kat Lewis explains why she now goes for the organic option: “Even before I was pregnant, I would normally buy organic meat because of the better animal welfare practices, and I get organic fruit and veg via a box scheme. Now that I’m pregnant, I want to make sure my baby isn’t affected by harmful pesticides, so I’m even more keen to eat organic foods whenever I can, particularly dairy products which have been found to have higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. I’ve found that by shopping carefully and cooking from scratch I’ve been able to do this without increasing my overall food bill.”
SO WHAT IS ORGANIC FOOD?
Put simply, organic food is Food As It Should Be. Organic always means fewer pesticides, no artificial colours or preservatives, always free range, no routine use of antibiotics and no genetically modified (GM) ingredients.
In processed organic foods, hydrogenated fats and controversial additives that have been linked to behavioural problems, including aspartame, tartrazine, and MSG, are banned – meaning more healthy food for a healthier mother and baby.
All organic food is fully traceable from farm to fork, so you can be sure of what you’re eating. Any food sold as organic must be certified as meeting strict rules, and these standards are laid down in European law. If you are looking for organic products, check that there is an official symbol from a certification body, like the Soil Association. This indicates that rules and standards have been followed. When you see the organic symbol, you can be sure that what you put in your shopping basket has been produced to the highest standards.
WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS ABOUT PESTICIDES?
Non-organic food production makes wide use of pesticides which can pollute water, the environment and make their way into our food chain. Government testing in 2017 found pesticide residues in 47% of British food, and many of these contain more than one pesticide. Between 2011 – 2015, 100% of oranges and 86% of pears tested contained multiple pesticide residues. Organic farmers are permitted to use just seven pesticides, derived from natural ingredients including citronella and clove oil, but only under very restricted circumstances. Research suggests that if all UK farming was organic, pesticide use would drop by 98%!
WHY CHOOSE ORGANIC?
A landmark study by researchers at Newcastle University found that there are significant differences in the nutritional content of organic and non-organic crops.i The paper found fruit, vegetables and cereals, and crop-based foods are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants than non-organic crops. The findings shatter the myth that how we farm does not affect the quality of the food we eat.
In 2016, a ground-breaking study published in the British Journal of Nutrition has further confirmed that organic food contains more nutrients. The journal study showed that organic meat and dairy contain around 50% more Omega-3 fatty acids than their non-organic counterparts.ii
For pregnant and breastfeeding mums, who have a higher requirement for Omega-3 fatty acids, organic milk could be the best option. Dutch government-funded research found that mothers who eat organic dairy products and drink organic milk had more beneficial nutrients in their breast milk. Furthermore, organic milk-drinking mums’ children were over a third less likely to suffer with eczema up to their second birthday,i i i and links have recently been established between Omega-3 fatty acids and a reduction in childhood aggression.iv
Organic milk is also higher in nutrients like vitamins A and E, iron, and potassium.
Some studies have shown that organic milk has lower levels of iodine than conventional milk. However, a recent study by the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative (OMSCo), who are responsible for supplying approximately 65% of organic milk in the UK, showed iodine levels in organic milk had risen higher than those of conventional milk. The results follow a three-year project by the cooperative to increase the levels of iodine in milk via iodine supplementation and/or the use of iodine-based teat disinfectors during milking.
Because of organic regulations and organisations like OMSCo, organic milk prices have not been affected by plummeting ‘farmgate’ milk prices, which means that organic milk farmers are paid a fair price. When you buy organic you are paying for the welfare of farmers and animals as well as numerous nutritional benefits for you and for baby.
IS ORGANIC AFFORDABLE AND ACCESSIBLE?
You might be surprised at just how affordable and accessible organic produce is. The organic market is now in its seventh year of continued growth as more people choose organic. Organic products are also becoming more readily available. In fact, Soil Association certified over 3,000 new organic products in the last year alone and organic products are now available in over 8,000 locations across the country, as well as online and through home delivery and box schemes.
Box schemes are a great way to get fresh, healthy, organic produce delivered straight to your door. Organisations like Riverford Organics and Abel & Cole make it straightforward to order and they have a wide range of fruits and vegetables as well as meat and dairy.
Independent food and health shops have always been the traditional home of organic, and often you can find products at great prices. Independent retailers are the experts on organic, so if you want to find out more about certain foods or producers, your local independent shop is a brilliant place to start.
Supermarkets are also increasing their organic ranges, including the discounters like Aldi and Lidl, so there are bargains to be had. As more and more people turn to organic and the big retailers increase the number of products they stock, organic is only going to get easier to find and more affordable.
I’d always recommend becoming a member of the Soil Association, which gives you access to discounts and updates from many of Soil Association’s organic licensees. Discounts become available regularly, so it’s always worth checking with your local organic retailer or going online to find the best deals for Soil Association members.
You can find out more by visiting our website https://www.soilassociation.org/take-action/organic-living/
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
The Soil Association is the UK’s leading organic organisation. For more information on organic, visit https://www.soilassociation.org/
Baranski et al. (2014) Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Nutrition 112, 794-811. http://research.ncl.ac.uk/nefg/QOF/crops/page.php?page=1
“Higher PUFA and omega-3 PUFA, CLA, a-tocopherol and iron, but lower iodine and selenium concentrations in organic bovine milk: A systematic literature review and meta- and redundancy analysis”. Carlo Leifert et al. British Journal of Nutrition http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FBJN%2FBJN115_06%2FS0007114516000349a.pdf&code=d30304da0a612a25d36eebf438633b36
Rist, L., Mueller, A., Barthel, C., Snijders, B., Jansen, M., Simões-Wüst, a P., … Thijs, C. (2007). Influence of organic diet on the amount of conjugated linoleic acids in breast milk of lactating women in the Netherlands. The British Journal of Nutrition, 97(4), 735–743. http://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114507433074 Kummeling et al, 2007. Consumption of organic foods and risk of atopic disease during the first 2 years of life in the Netherlands, Louis Bolk Institute Department of Health Care and Nutrition, Driebergen, the Netherlands. British Journal of Nutrition (2007).
Richmond TS, Raine A, and Cheney RA, et al. Nutritional supplementation to reduce child aggression: a randomized, stratified, sing-blind, factorial trial. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 2016