Organic Consumers Association

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Organic Foods More Nutritious Than Conventional Foods

If you have been a supporter and consumer of organic foods because of its better taste and health benefits, then you've probably endured the taunts from scoffers and sceptics and labelled a "health nut", "fanatic" or worse.

Even a government body (the FSA) which provides advice and information on food, has up to now had the following stance on organic foods: "Consumers may also choose to buy organic food because they believe that it is safer and more nutritious than other food. However, the balance of current scientific evidence does not support this view."

Well, now it's almost official: Organic foods really are better for you.

The biggest and most extensive scientific study and research into the benefits of organic food has found that it is more nutritious than ordinary produce and may in fact lengthen people's lives. They also contain higher levels of antioxidants and flavo-noids which help ward off heart disease and cancer as well as higher levels of beneficial minerals such as iron and zinc. (But you could've told them that.)

Newcastle University have been leading this £12m, four-year project, funded by the European Union and their findings show that organic food contains more antioxidants and less unhealthy fatty acids.

They found levels of antioxidants in milk from organic cattle were between 50% and 80% higher than normal milk. Organic wheat, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, onions and lettuce had between 20% and 40% more nutrients than non-organic foods.

Project co-ordinator Professor Carlo Leifert said: "We have shown there are more of certain nutritionally desirable compounds and less of the baddies in organic foods or improved amounts of the fatty acids you want and less of those you don't want. Our research is now trying to find out where the difference between organic and conventional food comes from. What we're really interested in is finding out why there is so much variability with respect to the differences. What in the agricultural system gives a higher nutritional content and less of the baddies in the food?"

The studies have indicated that differences between organic and non-organic produce were so marked, eating organic produce is like eating an extra portion of fruit or vegetables everyday. "If you have just 20% more antioxidants and you can't get your kids to do five a day, then you might just be okay with four a day," said Leifert.

The research project included growing both organic and conventional test crops of fruits and vegetables. They also reared cattle on a 725-acre site at Nafferton Farm, Northumberland.

The research will also assist organic farmers to improve their quality and farming methods with a better understanding of how the nutritional quality of produce is affected by agricultural methods.

The question is: will this project, also known as "Quality Low Input Food project", end years of debate and overturn Government advice that eating organic food is no more than a "lifestyle choice"? The Food Standards Agency has confirmed it will be reviewing the evidence from the research and considering whether to change its advice.

The Soil association, a leading representative of the organic producers, is hoping that this latest research could help to contribute to a "seismic" change in the food industry. The final results of the project will be published over the next 12 months.

 About the author Katherine Oosthuis manages and writes for a health and nutrition website Detox For Life . Her passion is to make research available to those who are looking to improve their well-being and revolutionise their health through better nutrition and alternative medicines.

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