Many people find themselves in a dilemma as to whether to choose organic produce. They may wonder whether its ethical standards, taste, and health benefits differ enough to be worth what can often be a higher price. Knowing the facts can help in the decision-making.

Only you can decide whether buying organic produce is the right choice for you. Organic farmers are passionate that it is the best way to farm, even though it is difficult. They have to adhere to strict regulations over the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and so on, relying on other plants and wildlife to manage disease and pest infestation instead of using artificial non-organic chemical substances. In the UK, organic regulation is very tight, particularly when it comes to livestock. Animals have to be given organic feed and specific amounts of suitable outdoor space to roam in, and be looked after to defined standards. Because they suffer from fewer diseases than intensively farmed animals housed close together in large numbers, there is less need for drugs, which are only allowed in emergency situations. The aim of this way of farming is to produce healthy animals that have a good quality of life and also to protect the consumer from pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, and growth hormones.

Jersey cow, standing, front view

It is a costly business, but if you believe in the ethos, you will be prepared to pay that bit extra. One way to balance the books is to buy organic meat or poultry and mix it with cheaper vegetable protein, such as pulses, to make the meal go further. For instance, if you buy organic sausages, cut them up and make them into a casserole with chickpeas, peppers, tomatoes, and other vegetables. That will make the sausages go a lot further than serving them just grilled with mash and some vegetables.

Adult Pietrain sow, pink skin with large grey patches, white hairs, large ears, long snout, teats on underbelly, short curly tail, standing, side view.

At present, the UK Department of Health says there is no concrete evidence that organic produce contains more nutrients than non-organic produce, but it continues to review research on the subject. However, organic food is likely to contain no residual pesticides, and organic meat and poultry will not come from animals that have been given growth hormones, or with antibiotics shortly before slaughter. But in deciding whether organic is the right thing for you, don’t be swayed into thinking that just because it is organic it must be good for you – an organic packet of sweets can easily contain just as much refined sugar as a nonorganic packet, so check the label.

There is debate about whether organic produce tastes better, but what tastes good to one person won’t necessarily to someone else. It’s a matter of personal choice. Some people are happy just to buy free-range eggs and meat and don’t mind that they aren’t organic as long as the animals have had a good quality of life. Others choose to buy organic fruit and vegetables in order to avoid fertilizer and pesticide residues.

Organic fish is a quandary for some, as only farmed fish can be certified organic, and many people object to fish farming. You may prefer to buy sustainably sourced, line-caught (rather than dredged) fish from well-managed wild stocks, properly fished to lessen the impact on the environment and avoid over-depletion of the stocks.

Sustainable fish will be clearly marked at the fish counter. Try to buy local produce as much as you can, too, in supermarkets and farmers’ markets. This helps to reduce the environmental costs of transporting produce (food miles) and you get food at its freshest. Try also to support local shopkeepers, as they can often be a great source of advice on cuts of meat, types of fish, or the best seasonal fruit and vegetables. Growing your own vegetables brings the pleasure of nurturing plants that provide you with delicious food, and you can do it organically. If you don’t have time or space for a garden, try growing herbs, salad leaves, or tomatoes in a window box, or in pots on a balcony.

Trug containing dill, rocket, chives, chervil, curly parsley and tarragon

Children love growing plants, particularly if it’s a quick process. Try sprouting some mung beans, for example. Put a handful of dried mung beans in a jam jar, fill it with cold water, place a piece of muslin over the top, and secure with an elastic band. Leave overnight, then drain off the water through the muslin lid. Rinse the beans with fresh water, then drain again. Repeat every 24 hours for a few days and see them shoot. They’re delicious in salads or stirfries, or as a nibble with other raw vegetables.

 

Complete Family Nutrition, by Jane Clarke, published by DK, £16.99, dk.com

Jane Clarke's Complete Family Nutrition

Jane Clarke’s Complete Family Nutrition

About The Author

Jane Clarke
FOUNDER of Nourish by Jane Clarke, BSc (Hons) SRD DSc

Jane is both a dietitian and Cordon Bleu chef with more than 30 years’ experience in the nutrition industry. Jane is the author of nine best-selling books, was a columnist for over a decade for The Daily Mail, Observer, The Times and The Mail on Sunday, and regularly contributes on TV. She worked with Jamie Oliver on several of his projects, including the School Meals revolution, which showed that people-power can bring about social change. It is with this same mindset and passion that she is leading Nourish by Jane Clarke, which provides a solution to the problem of undernourishment and provides empowerment and inspiration to those who are vulnerable or facing a health challenge. Jane was the first person in the UK to open a private dietetic clinic, establishing a highly successful specialist Nutrition and Dietetic practice in London that has been running for the past 27 years. She advises some of Britain’s leading sportspeople, entertainers and media professionals, and has been personal dietitian and nutritionist for David Beckham and Benedict Cumberbatch. She is particularly regarded for her work with those living with serious illnesses such as cancer, neurological degenerative conditions, dementia and stroke, supporting patients from early diagnosis right through to end of life care, across all ages, including paediatric cancers and early onset dementia. Jane has been awarded an honorary doctorate for her services to nourishing the vulnerable from the University of West London. As a qualified Dietician, Jane spearheads Nutrition and Dietetic practices in London and Leicester advising some of Britain's leading sportspeople and many of the world's biggest actors, music and media personalities, whilst also continuing to treat young children, teenagers and adults with health problems such as diabetes, IBS, dementia, depression. Jane runs a specialist cancer and dementia nutrition practice in Marylebone, where she treats patients referred by GPs, consultants, carers and relatives. Jane was David Beckham's Personal Dietician & Nutritionist during the 2006 World Cup, whilst also advising him and his team at his Football Training Academy. Her books include the best selling series “Jane Clarke's Bodyfoods”, Yummy! A Children's Nutritional Guide, Yummy Baby, Nourish and Complete Family Nutrition. She is also a regular contributor on British Television including all the major networks. She has written for The Daily Mail, Observer, London Times and The Mail on Sunday. She was the Nutritional Consultant working alongside Jamie Oliver, on his groundbreaking television series Jamie's School Dinners and Jamie's co-presenter on Eat to Save Your Life! "Jane Clarke is an exceptional nutritionist. She loves food and she's a great cook - what a tiger!" - Jamie Oliver

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