Organic food is not necessarily always better for you or the environment. Here are the pros and cons of organic foods so you can make informed choices when considering whether to 'go organic'.

People who choose to 'go organic' may do it because they think organic produce tastes better, and/or believe that it’s safer, more nutritious, better for animal welfare or better for the environment. However, some of these views are popular misconceptions and are not actually true.

Nonetheless, the sales of organic food continue to rise year on year. It is thought that the rise in sales is due to increasing public concern about the use of pesticides, as well as an increase in awareness of how food is produced and how far it has traveled.

In order to help people decide whether or not organic food is for them, we've compiled the following pros and cons of buying organic food — as well as suggestions on which organic food is the best to buy.

Reasons for buying organic food

  • Organic farming is friendlier to the environment; therefore on organic farms you are likely to find a greater diversity of plants (not including the organic food itself) and animals.
  • Organic processed food contains no hydrogenated fat, whereas non-organic processed food does. Hydrogenated fat has been linked to heart disease — so choosing organic options can help to protect your heart.
  • If you are concerned about how animals are treated, then choosing organic food is a good idea. Organic farming ensures that animals are fed a natural diet and kept in free-range conditions.
  • Genetically modified (GM) crops are not allowed under organic standards.
  • There are lower levels of pesticide residues in organic food, as only a small number of chemicals are allowed in organic food production. However, it should be noted here that it is possible to produce conventionally-grown fruit and vegetables with minimal residues. Indeed, residues are usually not detected in about 70 per cent of produce sampled by the Pesticides Residue Committee (and they tend to focus on problem crops).

Reasons against buying organic food

  • Organic food may go ‘off’ more quickly than non-organic produce. This is because organic fruit and vegetables do not contain artificial preservatives and are not irradiated.
  • Organic food is more expensive to buy than non-organic food.
  • Many people believe that organic food does not allow the use of any chemicals. Contrary to popular opinion, organic food production does allow a limited number of chemicals to be used.
  • According to the UK Food Standards Agency, the French Food Safety Agency and the Swedish National Food Administration, some scientific research has found that organic food is no safer or more nutritious than food produced by conventional means.
  • Eating organic food is often thought to be healthier than eating the equivalent non-organic produce. However, the Consumers’ Association (UK) has concluded that there is 'no consensus' on reports linking organic foods to health benefits.

Buying organic food

The balance of your diet should first be examined before considering which organic foods to purchase. Try to eat more fruit and vegetables and starchy carbohydrate foods (such as bread, rice, pasta, breakfast cereals and potatoes). Aim for two servings of protein foods per day and two servings of low-fat dairy foods. If you do this it will hopefully mean that you eat fewer fatty and sugary foods.

After making sure your diet is balanced, try to incorporate the following organic food options:

  • Go for organic spinach, lettuce, cabbage and potatoes, as they have higher levels of vitamin C, magnesium, iron and phosphorus than their non-organic equivalents.
  • Choose organic vegetable soup. Researchers have found that organic soup contains almost six times as much salicylic acid as non-organic. Salicylic acid helps to combat bowel cancer and the hardening of the arteries.
  • Go for organic apples. Some non-organic apples are sprayed up to 16 times with 36 different pesticides — and many of these pesticides are hard to remove even if the food is washed thoroughly.
  • Choose organic meat. We eat more than enough protein , so by cutting down the amount we eat it will compensate for the higher cost of organic meat. A review of the Soil Association organic standards and farm assurance schemes by Compassion in World Farming found that organic standards provide the highest levels of animal welfare — so if you do go for organic meat, you will be safeguarding the welfare of animals.

The rise and rise of organic food

It is likely that sales of organic food will continue to rise for the foreseeable future. Whether or not you decide to ‘go organic’, what’s important to remember is that balance is the key when it comes to the overall content of your diet. A totally organic diet may not necessarily provide you with the optimal balance of nutrients. It is the choice of different foods from the five different food groups that constitutes a healthy diet, whether the foods you choose are organic or not.